Instagram meets Pinterest: I tried Lemon8, the new TikTok sister app growing in popularity

Tiktok's new sister app, Lemon8
Tiktok's new sister app, Lemon8   -  Copyright  Canva
By Amber Louise Bryce

Lemon8 is the latest social media app looking to entice influencers and remedy peoples’ vertical video fatigue. But is it any good?

There was once a time, circa 2015, when Instagram was a platform of square pictures only.

People posted flat lays of foods, posed for scenic travel shots and took mirror selfies in toilets that looked like spaceships. Every image was bathed in the softly-lit amaro filter; a soothing (and chronological) scroll into the subconscious of aspirational millennials.

But that was then, and this is now: Non-stop adverts and recommended Reels (often secondhand from the video-sharing app TikTok, the format they imitate) bombard the timeline and Instagram is noisier than ever, as big brands and influencers vie for attention - and money. In the process, users are seeing less and less of the content they actually want to see.

Enter Lemon8, a new app from TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which is hoping to remedy people’s vertical video fatigue with its back-to-basics photo-sharing format.

What is Lemon8?

Described as the love child of Pinterest and Instagram, Lemon8 is a Gen-Z targeted, influencer-inspired social media app that allows people to share images and videos with their followers.

First launched in Japan in 2020, the app made its debut in the US and the UK in February 2023 and has already seen a huge surge in popularity. It has been downloaded at least 17 million times globally since becoming available, according to Apptopia, a company providing market data for the mobile app economy.

Lemon8 caters for a younger audience specifically interested in lifestyle topics, focusing on the following five main categories: Beauty, Fashion, Food, Travel and Pet.

Unlike Twitter or LinkedIn, this is not somewhere you come to discuss politics or workplace issues - it’s a scrapbook-style space for curating cute outfits and cooking recipes.

How do you use Lemon8?

The app is incredibly intuitive to use, with the familiar ‘For You’ feed and another tab for ‘Following’. You can move between the categories at the top of the page and scroll endlessly through aesthetically pleasing pictures of overnight oats and disco decor.

Lemon8
A Lemon8 user shares their disco decor tipsLemon8

One stand-out feature is its integration of simplistic graphic design tooling, which encourages the use of text, stickers and music during editing to make posts feel more inspirational.

Longer blog post-style captions are also favoured, emphasising the app’s desire to be informative and hinting at its potential uses for search engine optimisation (SEO) in the future.

There’s the option to post single images, carousels of multiple images or video - although it’s a medium that’s less popular here, with users looking for a reprieve from Reels.

Is it safe to use?

To put it lightly, Lemon8’s sister app TikTok has not had the best press of late, with fears over privacy and security breaches leading a growing number of countries to ban the Chinese-owned platform on federal government devices. Most recently, lawmakers in Montana, the US, passed a law to become the first state to completely ban TikTok.

Despite such heated scrutiny from regulators, ByteDance still seems determined to promote its newest app, especially in the US, where it has even hired a team in New York to work with creators on Lemon8 specifically, according to a report by Insider.

While Lemon8 does reportedly share the same algorithm as TikTok, there’s no evidence to suggest it is in any way dangerous to use.

I tried Lemon8 for a week

Full disclosure: I am not an influencer.

I rarely do my makeup, can’t cook, pair almost every outfit with pyjama bottoms and own more novelty cat-themed jumpers than I do designer handbags.

I’m admittedly not the target audience for Lemon8, an app that wears its superficiality proudly. This is a platform designed for content creators to create aspirational content, which makes all the more sense in an ad-bloated digital landscape where social media for actual social connection is well and truly dead.

That’s not to say you need to be an influencer to enjoy using Lemon8. While I logged in as a sceptic at first, a carousel of images from someone’s recent charity shop trip hooked me in immediately. Then - wait, is that a Hello Kitty cafe in Brighton? Oooh, a skincare review using products by The Ordinary!

Lemon8
A visual charity shop trip with a Lemon8 userLemon8

I won’t bore you with all the content I devoured in the ‘Pet’ category.

What hit me most was just how quiet the app is. The chaotic jumble of mediums found on other platforms is absent here; it’s all just a silent scroll through a friendly-themed and consistent style of imagery, which is something I didn’t realise I’d missed so much.

The graphics are a really nice touch, too. Their ability to make even a mundane series of images into something informative (and sometimes humorous) allows for a lot of creativity, while the longer descriptive captions bring a more sustained focus to what you’re viewing.

I had a go at posting something to test out the editing side of things and spent way too long just playing around with all the different font styles and placements - it was a lot of fun!

Lemon8
Attempting to make a Lemon8 on the topic I know best: My catLemon8

As you can see, I won’t be making money as a Lemon8 influencer any time soon (although my cat might.)

Can Lemon8 replace Instagram?

While I can’t see myself using this app regularly (sorry, too busy looking at memes on Reddit, TV show spoilers on Twitter and watching silly TikToks about a doll named Jasper), I probably will check-in every so often for things like crochet clothing patterns and vegan food.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lemon8 is how it embraces the artificial and idealised content that social media is so often criticised for. This has made me question if I truly am looking for authenticity online - are any of us? The rise of apps like BeReal, which notifies people to take pictures at random points in their day, would suggest so - although a recent article by the New York Times also documented how most Gen-Z are already moving on from it.

I think the key thing here is Lemon8’s honesty about what it is. I often watch content from smaller creators that feels more real and relatable, but at other times I crave pretty pictures of bubble tea and banana pancakes. I like knowing where to go to find these things, rather than getting lost in the swell and suffocation of everything all at once, which has become so much of the social media experience.

I doubt I’m the only one to feel this way. People are growing tired of Meta and its pushing of performance media (advertiser tracked content), which has taken over both Facebook and Instagram as the company attempts to replicate TikTok’s successes.

This has opened up space for new apps, like Lemon8, to provide what many users are missing: simplicity.

But whether people will leave Instagram for good remains an open question. Many users grew up with the app and have an archive of themselves stored there. Others have used Instagram to build a successful audience as an influencer.

And even when we begin to hate the social media spaces we occupy, it’s still not so easy to leave them behind when they’re so ingrained in our daily lives. Much like real-life relationships, any fallout tends to be much slower; a gradual distancing and movement towards where others in our lives are going.

Although Lemon8 is certainly a great antidote to Meta burnout, it is still so new, and therefore difficult to say whether it will reshape peoples’ social media habits in the long term.

For now, at least, Lemon8 is a return to simpler, 2015 Insta times.

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