As U.S. lawmakers move forward with their plans for a TikTok ban or forced sale, its Chinese parent company ByteDance is driving another of its social platforms into the top charts of the U.S. App Store. On Monday, Lemon8, a rival to Instagram that describes itself as a “lifestyle community,” topped the U.S. App Store’s Top Charts. The app is ranked No. 9 on the App Store’s Top Apps chart, excluding games today.
A dramatic move for the little-known app, this surge may be attributed to paid user acquisition efforts. According to app store intelligence provided to TechCrunch by data.ai, Lemon8 had never been ranked in the Top 200 Overall Charts in the U.S. before yesterday.
An app that moved from being unranked to being No. 9 among the top free apps in the U.S. is implying that the app publisher has made a “significant” and “recent” effort to acquire new users. Due to Lemon8’s newness to the App Store’s Top Charts, third-party app analytics firms do not yet have precise data on its U.S. installs, or how those installs have changed over the past few days.
Despite being launched globally in March 2020, it’s most likely that the app was only released for testing in the U.S App Store. It was then more “officially” launched sometime over the past few days which meant that a significant amount of money was spent on paid discovery or app install ads.
According to Apptopia’s data, Lemon8 was released on iOS and Android in March 2020, and has since received 16 million downloads with 38% of those downloads coming from Japan. Also, the company lacks a figure for its U.S. installs it is estimated the app currently has 4.25 million monthly active users.
Lemon8 has not yet spent on paid search on either the App Store or Google Play, but Apptopia cautions it may have paid install campaigns that haven’t yet populated in its system or spend on networks it doesn’t have insight into.
To push app installs, however, we think ByteDance may just be using one of its own channels: TikTok.
In the past 24 hours, a number of TikTok creators have begun posting videos about Lemon8, many of which are extremely positive but are not marked as sponsored.
A creator spoke to her 435.3K followers, saying, “It’s so cute. Aesthetically pleasing. It’s like Pinterest and Instagram got married.”
Passion Willems (73.9K followers) recommends downloading the app if you haven’t heard of it.
Some creators, however, are suspicious about the TikTok community’s sudden interest in Lemon8. Alexandrea Brumfield wonders, “Is it coincidental that I’ve seen so many [Lemon8] videos back to back to back?
Her Concerns May Not Be Unfounded
ByteDance quietly launched Lemon8 last month in the U.S. and U.K., and paid creators to seed initial content on the app, according to Insider. It was disclosed to the news outlet that influencers were required to follow certain steps in order to be paid. ByteDance’s paid influencer marketing would not be surprising if some of these new, overly positive TikTok videos about Lemon8 were also paid influencer marketing.
We think it has to do with the language Lemon8 creators used in the Insider story — for example, describing it as a Pinterest-esque mix of Instagram and Pinterest — in addition to the timing, of course. In these overly positive videos, TikTok creators are regurgitating this exact description.
As an example, a scroll through videos matching a Lemon8 keyword search on TikTok show’s creators repeating “Pinterest meets Instagram” or “like Instagram and Pinterest had a baby,” describing the app as “so cute.”
Neither of the creators posting these positive reviews disclosed whether they were paid to do so.
During the search for the keyword “Lemon8” and filtering for videos published within the last 24 hours, we came across over 350 videos matching the search term. Several were positive reviews that encouraged users to download the app. In fact, some creators said they would get the app if TikTok was banned.
Lemon8 may not be the quick solution to a nationwide TikTok ban that lawmakers could take into consideration, as they could impose broader limits on Chinese tech and applications other than TikTok. For its part, ByteDance enlisted influencers to represent their cause in Washington before the congressional hearing last week. However, creators are particularly upset with this prohibition proposed by legislators from the U.S., and further aggravated by the apparent lack of knowledge about the platform shown by House delegates when questioning the CEO of TikTok.
Currently, the Lemon8 hashtag has 2.3 billion views on TikTok; however, this includes a lot of non-U.S., non-English language content from over a longer period of time. As of yesterday, the #TikTokBan hashtag had 1.7 billion views on TikTok, according to the New York Times. Many people oppose the ban.