Lemon8, an app by TikTok’s parent company, is making waves in the US

The app, a combination of Instagram and Pinterest, was launched globally on iOS and Android in March 2020, but it wasn't until recently that it was made official in the US.
3 April 2023

Lemon8, an app by TikTok’s parent company, is making waves in the US. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

In the thick of a bipartisan discourse on whether TikTok should be bought or banned in the US, Chinese tech giant ByteDance quietly introduced Lemon8 into the country. The “content sharing platform with a youthful community” is marketed as an alternative to TikTok, currently the most controversial app in America.

While many had assumed Lemon8 was a new app, the ByteDance-owned platform has been around since March 2020. It started by making headway in selected Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. The move to introduce the app subtly into the US and UK is simply a sign of ByteDance’s undeterred ambitions to not only become one of the top makers of apps in the world, but to still make it in the States, despite the growing calls in Washington to ban TikTok or force the company’s Chinese owners to sell it

According to TechCrunch, Lemon8, which many claim is an Instagram rival, jumped into the US App Store’s top charts on Monday last week, becoming the number 10 most downloaded app across both apps and games. “ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, invites you to become a launching creator on their new Lemon8 platform before it officially rolls out in the US!” according to one of the messages sent to creators last week from marketing companies hired by ByteDance.

The notes and linked materials, reviewed by The New York Times, declared Lemon8’s ambition to become a top global social media service and cited the success of its “sister company TikTok.” It added that the platform, which has already been quietly introduced on app stores, used “the same recommendation engine that helps TikTok succeed.” 

The app plans to focus initially on topics like fashion, healthy food, and wellness. Unlike TikTok, which features a rolling scroll of short videos, the app resembles a combinayion of Instagram and Pinterest. 

Why did ByteDance come up with Lemon8?

Lemon8, an app by TikTok's parent company, is making waves in the US.

Lemon8, an app by TikTok’s parent company, is making waves in the US.
Source: Lemon8

At this point, information about the app is unclear, but regulatory filings and various media reports suggest Beijing-based ByteDance owns it. Apple’s App Store lists Singapore-based Heliophilia Pte as Lemon8’s owner. Singapore’s company registry shows Heliophilia is located at the same address as TikTok’s local headquarters and lists Zhou Qin, a Singapore citizen, as its director. 

Reuters reported last year that the app is overseen by Alex Zhu, senior vice president of product and strategy at ByteDance and former CEO of TikTok. Looking back to the beginning of 2020 in Japan, ByteDance took the lead in launching Sharee, a product similar to Xiaohongshu, its mobile app featuring community social and lifestyle recommendations.

Sharee was then renamed Lemon8 in September 2021; as it sounds like, the name is derived from “Lemonade.” By March 2022, the cumulative download volume in Japan exceeded one million, after which the app began its expansion into other Southeast Asian markets. 

Lemon8 vs. TikTok

As with most social media platforms, TikTok and Lemon8 allow people to create content that serves different audiences. While Lemon8 leans more toward influencer marketing, TikTok is aimed more towards content creation. Since it is a mishmash of Instagram and Pinterest, users on Lemon8 can share photos and short videos about wellness, travel, food, beauty, and more.

TikTok has amassed 150 million US users, and ByteDance appears eager to replicate its success with Lemon8. But given the rise in prominence of Lemon8, its fate may be just as much at risk in the US as its sister company, TikTok.

For now, the success of Lemon8 in US markets can either push creators to lobby politicians to block legislation that would ban TikTok and Lemon8, or encourage the government to act quickly.