Lemon8 Social Media

TikTok owner is giving new app Lemon8 a shot despite "sour" climate in the US

Rebbeca Ren

posted on March 2, 2023 5:42 am

The owner of TikTok, ByteDance, is introducing a "daily life guide" version of Instagram to the West, as this type of social app has been wildly popular in China and Southeast Asia. 

Last Wednesday, Business Insider reported that ByteDance was paying some influencers to post content on Lemon8, a newly launched photo-sharing app in the US and UK.


Photo-sharing apps are nothing new and have been around for over a decade. We have several big players like Instagram for fashion lovers, Pinterest for designers, Snapchat for teens, etc. So what is driving ByteDance to promote such a "nostalgic" social app?

The tech upstart‘s ambitions on Lemon8 can be better understood if you are familiar with Xiaohongshu, also known as "RED" or "Little Red Book," a prevalent social app in China. 

Screenshot of Xiaohongshu
Screenshot of Xiaohongshu

Launched in 2013, Xiaohongshu is clearly inspired by Pinterest in its design and layout, but it goes beyond the simple image-sharing thing that Pinterest or Instagram provides. It's more of a community-driven social platform, where people can talk about their shopping experiences, product reviews, travel tips, cooking recipes, life hacks, among other topics. All of the content and information are presented in a visually appealing way.

That is, an intriguing image draws people in, but it is the content of the post that keeps them there. Additionally, the app utilizes algorithms to surface content it thinks users might be interested in, keeping them engaged for longer.

And thanks to a large amount of user-generated content, Xiaohongshu seems to be evolving into a search engine where users can discover information for everyday use, such as the aforementioned travel tips, cooking recipes, product reviews, etc. "60% of users will search on Xiaohongshu, and the average daily search queries have hit 300 million," the company's chief operating officer said at a press conference held last week.

As of June 2022, data analytics company Statista reported that Xiaohongshu had over 158 million monthly active users (MAUs) in China. With its soaring popularity, the platform has emerged as the best option for brands or celebrities seeking to increase their visibility among the Chinese-speaking community. The app features famous fashion companies such as Fendi, Dior, and Burberry, as well as celebrities such as Elon Musk's mother, Maye Haldeman, and fitness model Pamela Reif.

Xiaohongshu's community-driven vibe and user-generated content, it appears, are what distinguish it from Instagram or Pinterest, which concentrate solely on showcasing well-tuned images. Furthermore, these distinguishing features enable the app to more subtly influence users' buying behavior, positioning it as a rising star in the social commerce sector.

As one of the few social networks in China to experience rapid user growth over the past few years, Xiaohongshu has piqued the interest of many tech companies, which are either eager to create a Xiaohongshu-like product or to make their current products more Xiaohongshu-like.

ByteDance is one of them. It tried to get people interested in something like Xiaohongshu by releasing "Xincao" (新草) in 2018 and "Kesong" (可颂) in 2022, but neither project worked out.

In international markets where Xiaohongshu has barely ventured, ByteDance senses an opportunity, and with the global success of TikTok, the company has built up the infrastructure or localization teams to bring Lemon8 to a variety of different markets.

Screenshot of Lemon8
Screenshot of Lemon8

As Business Insider reported, ByteDance is paying UK and US-based creators to post on the app and requiring them to include three to seven images and a 100- to 300-word piece of content with each post. This is exactly what a standard Xiaohongshu post looks like.

Lemon8 had been active in Southeast Asia for some time prior to entering the two developed markets. Lemon8, which was released in 2020, is presently one of the top three most downloaded lifestyle apps in Thailand and Indonesia on the App Store.

Although faced with formidable competition from industry heavyweights like Instagram and Pinterest, Lemon8's meteoric rise demonstrates that it has effectively carved out a niche for itself by providing a service that is unique.

“It’s like Instagram, but more informative, like an internet forum,” commented Vulcan Post, a media outlet based in Malaysia and Singapore, after experiencing the app. Claudia Khaw, the writer of the article, appears to be pleased with the algorithm-based recommendations she received from Lemon8.

"My For You" page was filled with Malaysian content, including “Thrift shops that sell at RM10”, “Don’t miss these places when you go to Lalaport”, “ZUS drink recommendations”, and more. "It's all very Malaysian and also surprisingly educational," she said.

Contrarily, VICE, an avant-garde and alternative media outlet based in North America, seems to take a "sneering" stance toward Lemon8’s arrival. In its own words, the app looks as if Pinterest were all ads. "It is the shameless aggregation of the e-commerce aspects of our popular social media platforms," the magazine said.

This remark came as Instagram reversed its social commerce strategy, moving away from live shopping in general. “It will be hard to break into a market that is already fed up with the confluence of shopping and entertainment, and shopping and social media,” concluded VICE.

It will likely be much more challenging to achieve success in more developed markets, such as North America or Europe, than in Southeast Asia, as user behavior varies widely. Lemon8, despite entering Japan in 2020, currently holds a lukewarm position in the App Store's lifestyle category, ranking around #10. 

Meanwhile, considering the mounting pressure on TikTok from the US government and its allies over data security issues, the future of Lemon8 is fraught with uncertainties. But for now, the company is actively moving forward with Lemon8. On ByteDance's careers page, a slew of "Creator Partnerships" positions at Lemon8 is open in both the US and the UK.