Despite the threat of a TikTok ban, influencers are flocking to a new app from its parent company | CNN Business
In the days after TikTok’s CEO was grilled by Congress for the first time, many TikTok users began posting on an alternative platform called Lemon8, sometimes with eerily similar language.
Several creators described the app as “if Pinterest and Instagram had a baby, with the TikTok algorithm.” Some compared it to TikTok circa 2020 and encouraged other influencers to join the app before it grows. They also asked followers to share their Lemon8 usernames in the comments.
As it turned out, the app wasn’t just a random alternative to TikTok. Lemon8 is a social media platform launched in the United States earlier this year by TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, amid federal and state efforts to ban or restrict TikTok in the country over national security concerns.
Similarities in videos comparing the new service to Instagram and Pinterest, which were posted by English- and Spanish-speaking creators, raised questions about whether people were being paid to promote the new app on TikTok. But despite that speculation, and growing scrutiny from TikTok and ByteDance, a growing number of US users and influencers are enthusiastically promoting Lemon8, focusing on photos and highly curated, informative or “aspirational” content. .
“We need to talk about TikTok’s new sister app,” a creator said in one such video.
“I’ve seen a lot of bigger content creators that I love and promote it on their Instagram stories, so I thought, ‘OK, it’s my time to get on that bandwagon,'” Melanie said. Cruz, who started. creating content as a YouTube vlogger in high school around 2018. “I like that it’s something simple, that it’s not in your face…it’s not overwhelming.”
Lemon8 has been downloaded just over a million times in the U.S. since it was available in U.S. app stores in February, and had about half a million daily active users in the U.S. on last month, according to intelligence platform Apptopia.
Lemon8’s early traction points to the challenge lawmakers could face in curbing TikTok and other social media platforms. It also includes some hints of TikTok’s own rise, which was driven in part by ByteDance’s heavy spending to advertise the service on rival platforms Facebook and Snapchat. This time, however, the best place to promote the next TikTok may be on TikTok itself.
The New York Times reported last month that ByteDance had begun initial marketing efforts for Lemon8 that included working with influencers. Now, some creators featured on Lemon8’s “for you” channel appear to be disclosing their work with the company by using the #Lemon8Partner hashtag in their captions.
A source at the ByteDance company said that Lemon8 is still in its infancy and testing how to work with creators. They said ByteDance has not launched any formal marketing efforts for Lemon8, but in some cases has made arrangements to pay creators to post on the platform. However, they denied rumors that ByteDance had paid creators to promote the new app on TikTok.
ByteDance also recently listed job openings for Lemon8 creator association roles, according to postings seen by CNN. “Lemon8 is a social media platform committed to building a diverse and inclusive community where people can discover new content and creators every day,” the job postings read.
Lemon8’s photographic approach marks a sharp shift away from most major social apps that, following the example of TikTok, have devoted themselves to endlessly scrollable short-form videos in recent years.
Lemon8’s homepage is a “for you” feed where users can scroll through content, similar to TikTok, but instead of videos, the feed is two columns of still images. When you click on a post, it can be a single photo or a carousel of images. It is also possible to post videos to the app, but they are less popular.
The app is heavily focused on beauty and lifestyle content – the ‘for you’ page can be sorted into six categories, including fashion, home and travel. Many of the posts include long captions, and users can also edit images to include text overlays. In addition to similarities to Instagram and Pinterest, Lemon8 looks almost identical to the Chinese app Xiaohongshu.
However, the app lacks some standard features of the social platform, such as messaging and the option to tag other users in posts.
A recent scroll through Lemon8’s “for you” page featured before and after photos of a Botox treatment, a “no-holds-barred” daytime eating plan, book recommendations, wedding dress advice from black tie and “10 recent Amazon women’s purchases. NO regrets.”
“People seem to either love it or hate it,” health coach and content creator Madison Bravenec said of the app’s focus on aesthetics. But she added that the app’s specific focus on certain types of content has made it easier to find a community interested in the wellness content she likes to create, while TikTok’s most popular posts often have to appeal to a wider audience. wide.
Some creators say Lemon8 is filling a void in the social media ecosystem left when Instagram moved to prioritize short-form video content to better compete with TikTok, frustrating many creators who joined the application for its original approach to photos.
“We’re not videographers, we’re not the type of people who would want to change the way we create content and communicate with others just because one platform prioritizes one product over another,” said Can Ahtam, a professional photographer who joined Instagram has been around for over a decade. “So we all felt that the impact of the scope was less with the photos that we were sharing [on Instagram].”
Ahtam added: “If we were to compare them side by side right now, Lemon8 would have the edge in the photos being shared.”
Lemon8’s user base remains a far cry from the 150 million users TikTok says it has in the United States.
Still, in videos reviewing Lemon8, some creators have wondered whether the app could work as a replacement if TikTok were banned in the U.S., retaining the content recommendation algorithm that helped make TikTok a the most popular apps in the country and launched the careers of countless influencers.
But if TikTok were to go down, Lemon8 would probably go, according to James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The concern remains the same, which is that ByteDance is a Chinese company subject to Chinese law,” Lewis said. “If it is collected [users’ personal] information, then you have the same problem.”
TikTok, for its part, has said that its app poses no risk to US users and that the Chinese government has never asked for US user data.
The practical ramifications for creators of a ban on TikTok (and, perhaps by extension, Lemon8), should one be enacted, would likely still be months away, if not longer. Lewis said he doesn’t expect any national legislation to pass before the end of this year, and would almost certainly face legal challenges that could delay its implementation if it does.
By launching a new app even with TikTok in the spotlight, “ByteDance clearly doesn’t feel like they’re at risk,” Lewis said. And many creators say they’re not necessarily worried either.
Even if TikTok and Lemon8 were banned, Cruz said, “I already have followers on all the other platforms.”