The US App Store saw a surprise entry in its top charts on Monday – ByteDance-owned Instagram rival Lemon8. Interestingly, this comes at a time when ByteDance is under pressure from US lawmakers to sell TikTok’s stakes or potentially have the short video platform banned in the US. Lemon8 might be ByteDance’s backup plan to stay in the US market in the event of a TikTok ban.
Lemon8 describes itself as a lifestyle app and offers an experience similar to a mix of Instagram and Pinterest.
Prior to securing its spot in the Top 10 overall app rankings, the app was rather little-known.
Lemon8’s sudden rise
Lemon8’s rise through the US App Store rankings is dramatic, to say the least. Even a day earlier, it wasn’t even in the Top 200 app rankings. Overnight, it became the No. 10 overall app across both apps and games and secured 9th place in the App Store’s Top Apps chart.
Third-party analytics firms have very limited data on Lemon8’s installs in the US market or the recent trends in its installs.
The surge is essentially a result of paid user acquisition, but its scale and swiftness are baffling. The app’s dramatic entry into the Top Charts has also caught app intelligence providers off-guard.
ByteDance released Lemon8 globally in 2020, with Japan accounting for 38% of the app’s total downloads so far. However, its rollout in the US market was rather quiet, possibly on an experimental basis.
Based on its sudden surge through the charts, the app saw a more official launch only in the last few days, with ByteDance spending heavily on paid app discovery and app install advertisements.
App intelligence provider Apptopia reported that Lemon8 currently has 4.25 million monthly users. However, it does not have any data on the app’s US installs. Apptopia hasn’t seen Lemon8 promoted via paid search on Google Play or the App Store either. The firm also noted that ByteDance may have run install campaigns yet to populate its system.
It’s also possible that the company promoted Lemon8 on networks that Apptopia can’t access.
The most obvious network the Chinese-owned company may have leveraged is TikTok, and we have reasons to believe that’s exactly what happened. In the last 24 hours before Lemon8 made it to the top charts, many videos about the little-known platform surfaced on TikTok. Many of these were review videos speaking positively of and promoting the app.
None of these creators disclosed if Lemon8 had paid them to publish these reviews either.
Many creators publishing videos about Lemon8 explicitly mentioned that they are getting the app in case the US goes ahead with the TikTok ban. A lot of videos were extremely positive and pushed viewers to try the app, but they weren’t marked as sponsored content.
This definitely raises suspicions, especially considering the timing of Lemon8’s sudden rise. Most TikTok creators were also found to use similar phrases when describing the app. Last month, there was a report of ByteDance quietly paying content creators in the US to post on the platform.