An Instagram-like app released by ByteDance three years ago is now climbing the US app store rankings despite the controversy surrounding the company.
Lemon8, which has been called a combination of Pinterest and Instagram, bears a strong resemblance to China’s predominant lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu. ByteDance initially released the app in Japan in 2020 and it has since become successful in Southeast Asia. The app has reportedly now been downloaded 16 million times, with Japan accounting for 38% of this figure.
Solidifying its reputation as the “overseas Xiaohongshu”, Lemon8 has exploded in popularity in the US in recent weeks. After entering the US and UK markets in February of this year, Lemon8 made it into the top 10 downloaded apps in the US in March. As of April 12, it ranks #2 for free lifestyle apps, behind only Pinterest.
Much like Xiaohongshu, Lemon8 is a platform designed to facilitate “seeding” or peer-to-peer product recommendations. Whereas Instagram provide feeds based mainly on a user-curated social network, Xiaohongshu generates a feed of recommended content based on user’s areas of interest, more similarly to Pinterest. At the same time, like Instagram, influencers are a prominent element of the Xiaohongshu ecosystem. Xiaohongshu also functions as a kind of search mechanism, with indexed categories allowing users to quickly find local restaurant recommendations or new products based on their needs.
Recognising the success of this model within China, Lemon8 aims to address the lack of a close equivalent overseas. To do so, ByteDance has leveraged the huge global userbase of its short video powerhouse TikTok to promote Lemon8. At the same time, the company has paid close attention to localisation, such as including new search categories for the Japanese market like baking and storage.
Xiaohongshu has also tried to make inroads in overseas markets, but all three of its overseas app launches – targeting Japan, Southeast Asia, and Europe respectively – drew little interest.