Ban TikTok backup plan? ByteDance’s Instagram rival Lemon8 hits the top 10 on the US App Store

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As US lawmakers continue their plans for a TikTok ban or force sale, the app’s Chinese parent company ByteDance propels another of its social platforms to the US App Store’s top charts. ByteDance app Lemon8, an Instagram rival that describes itself as a “lifestyle community,” jumped into the US App Store’s Top Charts on Monday, becoming the No. 10 overall app for both apps and games. Today it ranks #9 on the App Store’s Top Apps list, not counting games.

This is a dramatic move for the little-known app and one that points to paid user acquisition efforts enabling this surge. Prior to yesterday, the Lemon8 app had never been in the Top 200 Overall Charts in the US, according to app store information provided by to AapkaDost.

The company confirms that such a rapid transition from an unranked app to number 9 of the top free apps in the US – ahead of YouTube, WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook – implies “significant” and “recent” user acquisition. the part of the app publisher. Unfortunately, because the app is so new to the App Store’s top charts, third-party app analytics companies don’t yet have precise data on Lemon8’s US installs, or how those installs have changed over the past few days.

But since the app launched globally in March 2020, it’s most likely that it was quietly released on the US App Store, but for testing purposes only. Then, sometime in the past few days, it launched more “officially”, meaning it was accompanied by this obviously significant spend on paid discovery or app install ads.

Image Credits: Lemon8

According to data from app intelligence provider Apptopia, Lemon8 debuted on both iOS and Android in March 2020 and has since achieved 16 million global downloads, with Japan as the main market, accounting for 38% of total installs. While the company also doesn’t have a figure for its US installs, it was able to estimate that the app currently has 4.25 million monthly active users.

Apptopia noted that it has not yet spent Lemon8 on paid search on the App Store or Google Play, but warned that it may have paid install campaigns not yet populated in its system or expenses incurred on networks it does not have insight into in.

However, we think ByteDance is simply using one of its own channels to boost app installs: TikTok.

On TikTok, we noticed that a number of creators recently started posting about Lemon8, with many new videos appearing in the last 24 hours. It is concerning that many of their reviews are extremely positive, but are not marked as sponsored content.

For example, one creator, Gabrielle Victor, tells her 435.3K followers, “It’s so f***ing cute. AESTHETICALLY pleasing. It’s like Pinterest and Instagram got together and had a baby.”

Another creator, Passion Willems (73.9K followers), recommends: “If you’ve never heard of it, I suggest you go to the App Store and download it!”

However, other creators are more suspicious of the TikTok community’s sudden interest in the new app. Alexandrea Brumfield reflects, “It’s a conspiracy that I’ve seen so many [Lemon8] videos back to back to back while the TikTok ban is in the news right now?”

Her concerns may not be unfounded.

Last month Insider reported that ByteDance Lemon8 was quietly rolling out in the US and UK and had paid creators to post on the app to seed the first US content. The influencers had shared with the news outlet the steps they had to take to receive payment for their posts. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of these new overly positive TikTok videos about Lemon8 were also some form of paid influencer marketing on the part of ByteDance.

Which makes us think that – aside from the timing, of course – has to do with the language the creators used in the Insider story to describe Lemon8 – they called it a mix of Pinterest and Instagram, for example. Now the exact same description is being spewed out by the TikTok creators who publish these overly positive videos.

In addition to the example cited above, a scroll through videos matching a Lemon8 keyword search on TikTok shows creators repeating the phrase “Pinterest meets Instagram” or “like Instagram and Pinterest had a baby,” while describing the app as “sooo cute”.

None of the creators we found posting these positive reviews have disclosed whether they have been paid to publish their videos.

After searching for the keyword “Lemon8” and then filtering for videos published in the last 24 hours, we found over 350 videos that matched the search term. A large number of them were positive reviews that prompted users to download the app. Some creators even said they would get the app in case TikTok gets banned.

Of course, Lemon8 may not be a viable back-up plan for a TikTok ban, as lawmakers could consider a wide variety of restrictions on Chinese technology, including mobile applications that go well beyond TikTok. But ByteDance isn’t leaning on creators to make its case — the company sent influencers to Washington to lobby on TikTok’s behalf ahead of last week’s congressional hearing. But even beyond the efforts with his direct involvement, a number of creators have been frustrated by the national ban proposed by U.S. lawmakers — not to mention the apparent lack of technical understanding demonstrated by the House representatives who TikTok CEO questioned.

Currently, the hashtag Lemon8 has 2.3 billion views on TikTok; however, this includes a lot of non-US, non-English language content from over a longer period of time. The New York Times recently reported that the #TikTokBan hashtag had grown to 1.7 billion views on TikTok yesterday, with many objecting to the ban.

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