As Washington calls for TikTok to be banned, its owner is pushing a new app
As TikTok’s chief executive was questioned by lawmakers last week over the app’s relationship with Beijing, with some even calling for a ban, the company’s Chinese owner was sending a message to Americans who regularly post and post on social networks: Come and join our new application.
“ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, invites you to become a launch creator on their new Lemon8 platform ahead of its official US rollout!” said one of the messages sent to creators last week by marketing companies hired by ByteDance to raise awareness.
The notes and related documents, which were reviewed by The New York Times, stated Lemon8’s ambition to become one of the world’s top social media services and cited the success of its “sister company TikTok”. He added that the platform, which has already been quietly introduced to app stores, uses “the same recommendation engine that helps TikTok succeed.” It will initially focus on topics such as fashion, healthy eating and wellness.
This awareness is a sign that ByteDance appears undeterred in its ambitions to become one of the world’s leading app makers, including in the United States, despite growing calls in Washington to ban TikTok or force Chinese owners to the company to sell it. TikTok has amassed 150 million US users and ByteDance seems keen to replicate its success with Lemon8.
But lawmakers and regulators may have similar concerns about Lemon8 as they do with TikTok, which has become a central battleground between the United States and China over technological and economic power. Washington officials have said TikTok poses a national security risk, citing concerns that Beijing could have access to sensitive data about app users, such as location information, or that China could use TikTok content recommendations for misinformation purposes.
“It’s a social media platform like Instagram, it has to do with collecting user information and it has the same ownership structure, being a child of ByteDance, so I think the same issues will go arise,” said Lindsay Gorman, chief technology and geopolitics officer at the German Marshall Fund and a former technical adviser to the Biden administration.
Even though the app initially seems innocuous, she added, “ultimately, with social media platforms in particular, they involve content, and that will always end up leading to political content and content. news”.
Jennifer Banks, spokeswoman for ByteDance, did not respond to questions about Lemon8 and whether the company is planning a regulatory review.
Lemon8 is available for download, but it has not officially launched. ByteDance is planning a global marketing campaign to attract more users in May, according to emails to creators. Online news site Insider reported on Lemon8’s US entry in February.
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Krishna Subramanian, founder of influencer marketing company Captiv8, described the app as a combination of Pinterest and branded posts on Instagram, with a greater focus on images and more text than TikTok. It has two columns of content and is full of product recommendations and advice, with the aim of boosting purchases.
Her “ideal designer portrait” is a 22- to 26-year-old woman from the New York or Los Angeles area with a focus on fashion or beauty, according to pitches Lemon8 shared with marketing agencies in January. Lemon8’s vision, according to one page, was “to create the most inspiring and informative platform for discovering, sharing and bringing ideas to life.”
Lemon8 also said it was introduced in Japan in April 2020 and reached five million monthly active users globally last year as it expanded to other countries including Great Britain. Britain, Singapore and Indonesia.
The recruiting effort is a reminder of the gap between how Washington views TikTok and ByteDance, and the perceptions of marketers and often young TikTok users, including creators who make money posting there. TikTok creators are already encouraging viewers to follow them on Lemon8, drawing comments littered with lemon emojis. ByteDance also has a popular video editing tool called CapCut, which has become one of the top free apps on Google and Apple’s app store charts.
“The fact that it’s owned by ByteDance means that the creators will give it a chance,” Mr. Subramanian said. “There’s this chance that it could become a very, very big part of the culture.”
Crystal Scruggs, a 29-year-old lifestyle creator from Houston, received an email from Obviously, one of the marketing companies working with ByteDance, the day after TikTok chief executive Shou Chew testified in Congress for about five hours.
The email invited Ms Scruggs to apply to become a fashion launch designer on Lemon8. If chosen, Ms Scruggs would receive a small, undisclosed stipend for posting on the app. She is expected to create 10 articles to be published in April, with topics such as reviews and shopping recommendations or fashion tutorials. Each post would include three to 10 images, require a caption of at least 150 words, and require Lemon8’s approval before publishing.
She said she was struck by the tone of the email, which she said was different from the brand campaign emails she typically receives. It seemed impersonal and Ms. Scruggs was initially unsure if this was a legitimate business opportunity.
“When companies or people who work with creators send in information, they usually ask if you’re interested before they just send in a full package,” Ms. Scruggs said.
In the end, she wasn’t interested. “The email just seemed like something that was sent to a million different people and not something that was targeted at people specifically to be part of a campaign,” she added. “I try to stay away from those things.”
The effort has been something of a swarm by design. Hundreds of creators in the United States have already signed up, which will help Lemon8 reach its goal of filling the platform with thousands of content this spring, according to a person with direct knowledge of the app’s plans. spoken on condition of anonymity. because the plans were not public.
Once Lemon8 selects its initial creators in the United States, they will receive guidance on the topics and aesthetics that tend to result in popular content. They’ll be posting throughout April in a phase called “content buildup.” In May, the app will focus on adding users and helping creators gain subscribers. In September, the app will turn its attention to “marketing opportunities,” like helping creators make money from brand and agency deals, and presumably other forms of advertising.
Lemon8 has offered creators several incentives for being the platform’s early partners beyond its allocations for posts. They could be featured on the app’s ‘Discover’ page or among Lemon8’s ‘rising stars’ – and they could even see their content marketed on TikTok.