TikTok’s parent company has been low-key pushing another social media app called Lemon8. Two months after its launch into the U.S., however, users seem to be joining the platform out of fear of missing out on the Next Big Thing rather than out of genuine interest in what the platform offers (which, atm, is not much).
Lemon8 started gaining popularity on TikTok back in February after it became newly available in the U.S. and the UK, with creators promoting their profiles and encouraging audiences to join the app. Many of these same creators boasted that Lemon8 is a hybrid between Instagram and Pinterest, providing a more positive user experience compared to the toxicity found on other platforms (including TikTok itself).
This narrative was eerily consistent, leading some to question its authenticity, particularly in light of the possible U.S. TikTok ban. These concerns were soon validated in a February 2023 report by Insider which claimed that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, had been paying creators to post on Lemon8. As the platform currently only supports static images, creators were reportedly instructed to prioritise three to seven vertical images and a caption of 100 to 300 words for each post— an ask that feels very 2017. Many of the posts on Lemon8 have #LemonPartner at the end of these lengthy captions, signaling the creator was paid to post by the app.
These alleged sponsorships seemed to work— by the last week of March, Lemon8 was number one in the U.S. App Store for the lifestyle category.
Despite all the recent buzz about Lemon8, its staying power is questionable.
A quick search about the app will pull up videos of creators saying they downloaded Lemon8 because they regret not joining TikTok fast enough. This is a strong indication that users will jump ship if the platform doesn’t immediately blow up— a reality we’ve seen play out many times in the past three years with other buzzy apps slated to be the next TikTok-esque success like Triller, Clubhouse (a fever dream), and most recently, BeReal.
Unlike TikTok, which took the place of former beloved video apps like Vine and Musical.ly, Lemon8 doesn’t have a unique offering in the social media landscape (“if Instagram and Pinterest had a baby” isn’t necessarily a strong brand story when people have to reference your competitors) nor does it fill a gap that could forge a path for new a type of content creator.
While TikTok’s success can be partially explained by the gap it filled in the short-form video category, its never-ending feed based on your personal algorithm, and a seamless UX design, the app also exploded at the start of the pandemic while people were stuck at home, spending more time on their phones than ever before, and seeking human connection virtually. These unique circumstances fostered a culture of raw authenticity on TikTok that was much needed at the time and something users couldn’t find on other platforms.
Though TikTok isn’t the first platform to change the lives of some of its early adopters— Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube can all claim the same— the rate at which regular people and unknown brands became overnight successes has brought about a culture among social media users of panic downloading every new app that gets a little bit of press.
This results in a self-fulfilling prophecy, as an app’s popularity initially soars with the influx of downloads, prompting users to spend more time creating content for this platform in the hopes of becoming one of the first influencers to spawn from the Next Big Thing.
But as history suggests, this initial popularity is artificial and fleeting. Take Clubhouse as an example. The audio-first app skyrocketed amid the pandemic, generating hype with celebrity talent, an invite-only strategy, and the promise of turning anyone into a thought leader. The platform peaked at 10 million active users in March 2021.
By mid-2021, the app scrapped its invite-only scheme as we emerged from the pandemic. Existing social media platforms proceeded to launch their own live audio functions and Clubhouse’s relevancy faced a steep decline. The platform now has an estimated 3.5 million active users.
BeReal has faced a similar fate. After seeing some success in the French market in 2021, the impromptu photo app implemented a cash-based referral program on college campuses throughout the U.S. and UK. The platform went from 920,000 monthly active users in January 2022 to 73.5 million in August 2022 and was branded the “authentic version” of Instagram— a title it has struggled to maintain.
Once considered a disruptor in the social media industry, BeReal has yet to master the user experience, with many reporting frequent glitches and issues with the app. BeReal also goes against the grain of traditional social media which encourages endless scrolling. Rather, users of BeReal can only post once a day and content disappears after 24 hours. There’s no incentive for users to check back in with the app throughout the day, and thus less of a chance for the app to organically become part of someone’s social media routine.
BeReal also doesn’t penalise users for failing to upload within the daily 2-minute window as per notifications— resulting in users “saving” their BeReal post for the most interesting part of their day, basically turning the app into another social media highlight reel.
Within six months of its peak, BeReal’s popularity had plummeted down to 10 million monthly active users in February 2023.
Through it all, TikTok’s increasing relevancy three years after it first burst onto the scene has undoubtedly altered the tech industry’s expectations of growth and success, while impacting how users adapt to new platforms. While several platforms have been slated as the Next Big Thing, few have managed to come close to TikTok’s continued growth and influence on the cultural zeitgeist.
Despite doing many things right, TikTok’s success is an anomaly that few apps, if any, will ever be able to replicate. Even by an app owned by the same parent company.