The Innovation Anxiety Behind ByteDance's Lemon 8 Overseas Business

Consumer Staples Author: Ruoxin Zhang Apr 29, 2023 10:23 AM (GMT+8)

TikTok’s turmoil in the United States has not subsided since the hearing. On April 14, the Montana House of Representatives took the first step, passing a bill to prohibit app stores from providing TikTok download services in the state from January 1, 2024. But during the same period, Lemon8, another product of ByteDance, was emerging. Since the test release at the end of February, it has been on the top 10 of the US AppStore download list in just one month.

ByteDance Building

Under TikTok's vigorous promotion, Lemon8 once ranked first in the AppStore lifestyle application ranking. But the popularity not lasting long, it quickly fell out of the top of the list. Currently, it’s hovering around 50. This emergence comes at a time when TikTok is facing the threat of being blocked in the United States.

According to reports, it was after the TikTok hearing that Lemon8 downloads began to surge. A large proportion of Lemon8’s American users also come from TikTok. This application, which many Chinese media call "Xiaohongshu" (Chinese: 小红书) and "Instagram", can drain traffic from TikTok for free, and it has naturally become an alternative for TikTok creators.

Optimistically, Lemon8 is not a substitute for TikTok that has been banned already, but a platform to help TikTok creators who lack the means of monetization expand their revenue channels. Because Lemon8's more straightforward "recommendation" attribute makes it easier for creators to monetize than TikTok. Compared with its popularity in the United States, Lemon8 has not caused any splashes in China. Its product logic and page settings for recommendation are all too familiar to Chinese users, because it is really too similar to Xiaohongshu.


This is not ByteDance’s only attempt at "recommendation". As early as 2018, Byte launched a graphic and text grass-growing app called New Grass ( Chinese: 新草), and defined it as a "recommendation community where young people are shopping". The product follows Toutiao’s page setup and single-column information flow. The APP Kesong ( Chinese: 可颂) launched in July 2022 has exactly the same double-column information flow and interface bar as Xiaohongshu, almost imitating at the pixel level.

Although these "recommendation" products imitating Xiaohongshu failed to survive a year, ByteDance seems to be ready to struggle on the track of "recommendation". The high level of concern from the management also led Douyin to directly set up the "L Special Team", with the core goal of grabbing the core users of Xiaohongshu.

After all, when discussing the track of "recommendation", it is almost impossible to bypass Xiaohongshu. This year, Xiaohongshu has 260 million monthly active users, and 20 million monthly active creators. According to the "Research Report on Consumer Psychology in the Post-epidemic Era" released by Xiaohongshu and Nielsen IQ, the per capita monthly income of Xiaohongshu users increased by 23% compared with 2021, reaching 12.1k, and the per capita monthly consumption of this user group accounted for 42% of income.

There is no doubt about the monetization potential brought by the "recommendation" business formed by Xiaohongshu. At present, the Internet traffic dividend is gradually fading, and technology giants represented by ByteDance are eager to lay out the "recommendation" track. This is not only the cutting and competition for the existing traffic plate, but also the means to realize the closed loop of traffic.

On today's social platforms, companies are no longer satisfied with just mining user needs, and even need to create user needs and guide consumption by "recommendation". The way Lemon8 drains traffic through TikTok is exactly the same as the path through which “Kesong” and the Douyin were opened up. Behind the "short content + social e-commerce" model, its underlying logic is actually "recommendation". Whether it is Douyin or TikTok, planting grass is an important track that must be seized.

Yiming Zhang once said in CCTV's Dialogue, "Donot compete with others’ core areas at the company level. This will involve a lot of energy and have no advantages." But in recent years, Byte has been eager to develop a powerful new product as a growth engine to succeed Toutiao and Douyin. ByteDance continues to put new products on the shelves, but the business it conducts is basically in other people's core areas.

Not only ByteDance, NetEase’s "Netease Aesthetics" ( Chinese: 网易美学) , Taobao’s "Guangguang" ( Chinese: 逛逛) , Pinduoduo’s "Pin Xiaoquan" ( Chinese: 拼小圈)  also more or less have the shadow of Xiaohongshu. However, so far, there is no existence that can replace Xiaohongshu. At the same time, the road of "recommendation" by technology giants seems to have achieved some results overseas. Lemon8 finally ushered in the long-lost spring in March. Miravia, a localized lifestyle platform in Spain, which was launched by Ali in December last year, currently has more than one million downloads on Google Play.

The most direct and easiest way to go to sea is of course a full copy. But for technology giants, the momentary success or failure of Lemon8 may not be the most important thing. Currently Lemon8 is still in the early stages of development in the US market. In the short term, it remains to be seen whether this "ByteDance’s version of Xiaohongshu" can take on the important task of ByteDance’s globalization Plan B. How to leave the narrow channel of self-replication and reference to others, jump out of the vicious circle of empiricism, and improve the ability to meet the needs of users is the root of technology giants to release the original anxiety.