Lemon8, the Instagram rival from TikTok parent ByteDance, fails to gain traction in US

TikTok owner ByteDance’s efforts to make its Pinterest-slash-Instagram competitor Lemon8 take off in the U.S. haven’t yet panned out. Since launching in the U.S. earlier this year, the Lemon8 app has only seen around 2.6 million total U.S. downloads, according to new data from app store market intelligence provider Appfigures. This paltry turnout comes despite a sizable influencer marketing push where a number of TikTok creators were praising the app to their followers, after reports indicated the U.S. was possibly moving forward with a TikTok ban.

The timing did not appear to be coincidental, in other words. If TikTok were about to lose its U.S. audience, ByteDance viewed Lemon8 as a possible backup plan, and it was leveraging the massive TikTok audience to help it grow. Influencers touting the app on TikTok began heavily posting about the app in the first quarter of the year, describing the lifestyle community in glowing, positive terms, like “cute” and “aesthetically pleasing,” and comparing the app to a cross between Pinterest and Instagram.

Available in Japan as of 2020, and popular in other Eastern markets like Thailand and Indonesia, the app didn’t gain much traction until April 2020, when installs grew from less than a thousand per month to 13,000. The app then reached its first all-time high for monthly downloads when it peaked at 292,000 in July 2021, Appfigures’ data shows. As it expanded in 2022, it peaked again with 1.5 million downloads in July 2022, leading to a total of 10.6 million downloads for the full year.

This year, Lemon8 began quietly rolling out to the U.S. and U.K., and ByteDance began boosting the app via creator marketing. Insider reported in February, for example, that ByteDance had paid creators to post on Lemon8 to seed its initial U.S. content. The following month, creators began posting to TikTok using similar language in their overly positive videos. Within 24 hours in late March, some 350+ videos matching the search term “Lemon8” appeared on TikTok, most of them positive reviews. Some creators even said they were downloading it in case TikTok got banned.

Despite seemingly following a script of sorts, none of the videos we had encountered at the time were marked as sponsored content. This helped to present Lemon8 as an app that was growing organically through word-of-mouth recommendations

But TikTok didn’t end up banned in the U.S. — though it has been banned from numerous government devices, at some universities, and in the state of Montana, starting in January 2024. (The latter is being challenged in court.) And even if it is banned or forced to spin out a sale at some point, it doesn’t appear that Lemon8 will be an easy replacement. In addition, most of those installs came from “spikes,” not a rising trend. (Perhaps the TikTok viral effect, in fact.)

iOS accounted for most of the U.S. downloads, at 2.5 million, and the app is ranked No. 2 in the Lifestyle category on the U.S. App Store. However, it moves up and down in the Top Overall chart. As of the time the data was collected, it was No. 90 Overall. Today, it’s No. 70 on the Top Apps Chart in the U.S. Though its rankings are decent enough, the total installs are still fairly low for something that’s supposed to slide in to replace TikTok in the event of a ban.

September 2023 was Lemon8’s biggest month in terms of U.S. downloads, as it saw 525,000 new installs. Downloads don’t equate to the number of active users, of course, so Lemon8’s usage is likely even lower. For comparison, TikTok had more than 150 million monthly active users in the U.S. as of March 2023.

Of course, there’s still the possibility that ByteDance could leverage TikTok again to boost Lemon8’s traction in the U.S. For instance, product intelligence firm Watchful.ai discovered a few months ago that TikTok was developing a feature that would allow users to sync their Lemon8 posts to TikTok, and then add sounds and music using TikTok’s editor. TikTok wouldn’t respond to requests for comment on the matter when we asked.

At the time Lemon8 had roughly 25 million worldwide downloads, per market intelligence firm data.ai.

Today, its biggest markets by total downloads are Japan (7.6 million), Thailand (6.5 million) and the U.S. (2.6 million).

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