Challenger Apps – Thrive Or Die?

Oct 17, 2023

Social Media Platforms

Challenger Apps – Thrive Or Die?

Each month new social media apps join the frey. 

Many burn bright but fast, crashing and burning within a few months. Apps that commonly fall prey to this fate are challenger apps

Challenger apps are born to directly oppose an existing app. They seek to find popularity by filling in the gaps left behind by other social media platforms. 

With many major social media platforms greatly changing the way they operate in 2023, a large wave of challenger apps have been born. 

But which challenger apps have what it takes to stick it out? 


While not a new app on the scene, nor truly among the leagues of traditional challenger apps, Patreon has recently been showing early warning signs of failure. 

Created in 2013 with the intention of providing steady income for content creators, Patreon has stood the test of time for many years. During the pandemic, Patreon experienced an uptick in users, with many creators seeking a replacement source of income due to the lack of live performances. 

To accommodate this growth, Patreon expanded. However, it became quickly apparent that this expansion was not sustainable. 

By late 2022, the company was forced to lay off 17% of its workforce. On top of this, they closed their offices in both Berlin and Dublin, and severely downsized their creator-partnership operations. 

In spite of these facts, the number of creators and patrons – what the platform calls its users – has not decreased since 2022. Since the start of 2023, creators have increased by 5.7%. Users have stayed steady around the 8 million mark since 2022. 

So, is Patreon set to join the ranks of challenger apps that have crashed and burned? Unlikely. 

On one hand, creators have long been open on the issues they have with the app. According to its users, it is incredibly difficult to build up a following on Patreon as it does not lend itself to building a sales funnel.

As a platform, Patreon is very limited in terms of its free content sharing options. Given that providing potential fans with free content is a crucial step in expanding your audience as a creator, many users have been critical of this aspect of the platform. 

Moreover, Patreon is content agnostic. Meaning that, it does not use content sorting algorithms. Initially, this was a huge positive in users eyes, as each creator was on a level playing field. Yet nowadays, all major social media platforms engage in content sorting, making Patreon seem less appealing in comparison. 

This forces creators to turn to other apps to promote their Patreon; a nuisance in many users’ eyes, who would rather simply have their content promoted to new audiences through content sorting on Patreon. 

Finally, many creators find that the platform analytics available on Patreon are severely lacking. Without extensive analytics, creators are unable to properly expand their audiences and evaluate the success and progress of their platform. 

Yet, in spite of these major flaws, it seems unrealistic that Patreon would get knocked off its pedestal and replaced by one of its many challenger apps. 

Patreon has a major head start ahead of its competitors, as well as substantial brand recognition and goodwill in the creator community. If the platform is able to take on the criticisms of its users and adapt accordingly, it is likely that Patreon will be around for many years to come. 

Patreon’s position as one of the majorly successful challenger apps is further cemented by its recent rebrand. Over the past couple of months, Patreon has given itself a face lift to become a haven for its creators. The platform has been introducing features that ensure the platform stands alone as an all-in-one app; taking criticisms from its users head on and attempting to better its platform. 

Some changes include the introduction of free tiers, which allow fans to follow their favourite creators’ work, and the new option for creators to sell digital products via the platform, including files and videos. 

The biggest update coming is community chats, where fans can get together in an almost break-out room to engage with each other and the creator. 

With these updates, Patreon is giving creators more control over their online presence and allow them to easily monetise their content more. The fact that Patreon is able to listen to its users and adapt accordingly, along with its historically dedicated following, creates the impression that the platform isn’t going anywhere soon. 

Challenger apps: Patreon


A solution to the Musk-ification of Twitter, Threads swung onto the scene as a massive success. 

With its record breaking 100 million sign ups on the day of its launch, many believed that Threads was one of the few challenger apps that would pass the test of time. Yet, it seems that its time in the sun is almost up. 

Threads’ daily average users have decreased by 82% in the last 21 days, and it appears that this trend is set to continue. Users spend an average of three minutes per day on Threads, whereas they spend an average of 31 minutes daily on X. 

Moreover, Threads is still yet to be widely available. Due to data privacy concerns – the manner in which Threads uses data might violate the E.U.’s Digital Markets Act – the app has been blocked for download from Europe. Until Threads receives the go ahead from the European Commission, it will remain in limbo. 

So why, despite its record breaking launch, is Threads, one of the more promising challenger apps, now crashing and burning?

Ultimately, Threads’ decline can be boiled down to two major points. The first, being the severe issues in its design. The second, being the mere existence of X. 

Firstly, many users have critiqued the general functionality of the app. Major criticisms include its algorithm based timeline and non-chronological feed which combine for an unsatisfactory user experience. 

Beyond this, the app is, at present, largely filled with Instagram influencers, creating an Instagram-like feel that does not scratch the Twitter itch. Moreover, Threads currently does not have a working desktop version, nor a proper search function. When combined together, these faults make the app largely unusable. 

Furthermore, while X is still available as a working platform, it is difficult to imagine a world where Threads comes out on top. Yes, X’s decline cannot be denied, but, at present, it functions better than Threads and provides a more enjoyable user experience. The majority of users would rather suffer through Musk’s X, than struggle to use Threads. 

All in all, the only leg that Threads has to stand on is that it’s not run by Musk – and for a faulty app that barely meets its purpose, for most users that just is not enough. Especially when compared to the many other functioning challenger apps in existence. 

Challenger apps: Threads


One of the newer challenger apps on the scene, Lemon8 is teetering on the edge of irrelevancy. 

Created by the highly successful ByteDance – the company behind TikTok – Lemon8 is Instagram meets Pinterest. The platform has found widespread popularity in Thailand and Japan, given its similarities to Little Red Book; a highly successful platform in the area. 

However, the platform has struggled to find its footing elsewhere in the world. Lemon8 enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the West in March of this year, due to the widespread belief that TikTok was going to be banned in the United States. In hopes of finding as much enjoyment in TikTok’s sister app as they did in the real thing, users flocked to Lemon8. 

However, they were met with an app that, whilst well designed, did not meet their needs in any manner. As a result, Lemon8’s daily active users have almost halved – falling from 11,930 in April of 2023 to 6,360 at present. Moreover, from March to May of this year daily downloads decreased to 6.7% of their peak. 

American users were hoping for a TikTok2.0; instead, they received a photo-focused app that plays into creators’ desires more than users. Rather than a fast paced, humour and user-based platform, Lemon8 is all about aesthetics and perfect posting. 

On top of this, many users have claimed that it is incredibly difficult to find new content on the platform, and that its algorithm is severely lacking in comparison to its predecessor. 

As such, Lemon8 has all but failed in the West. As of today, the majority of its users gained earlier this year have left the app. 

Yet, unlike Threads, Lemon8’s lack of worldwide success cannot be attributed to faults of its own. The blame for the platform’s failure to find global popularity is instead placed on our shoulders; the app simply does not cater to what we, as an audience, desire. 

With Instagram and Pinterest as popular as they are, it seems highly improbable that any app, let alone Lemon8, would be able to overtake them. Further, there is little evidence that global audiences desire another Instagram-esque platform. 

Perhaps, if Lemon8 had not been released with such a heavy emphasis on being from the same creators as TikTok, it would have had room to grow on its own; rather than attempting to live in TikTok’s shadow. 



Released in late 2019, BeReal is one of the few challenger apps out there that truly took the world by storm. Due to the Pandemic, the platform felt like a breath of fresh air in a time where the last thing anyone wanted to be doing was crafting the perfect Instagram post. 

BeReal positioned itself as the anti-Instagram; it promoted authenticity and the beauty in the mundane. For many months, this worked. Users loved the app’s simplicity and the way it allowed them to just be themselves. Yet, as it typically does, reality eventually set in. 

Monthly active users on BeReal have been steadily declining since August of 2023, wherein they stood at 75.3 million. As of this month, monthly active users lie at 25 million. 

Much like Lemon8, once again, this seems to be on us. 

Whilst initially BeReal’s emphasis on authenticity felt relaxing, over time it became almost as restrictive as Instagram’s need for perfection. Users were forced to come to terms with how much they actually care about their online persona; everytime you decide to retake your photo, or wait until you are doing something a tad more exciting than sitting in bed, you are forced to reckon with your attachment to your online identity. 

As one would guess, eventually this forced introspection became a tad much for many users. 

Much like many of the challenger apps that came before it, BeReal has attempted to rejig itself. 

In response to its dip in relevancy, BeReal engaged with its first global brand campaign. The campaign sees users posting their BeReal to Instagram and X in hopes of being chosen as the face of the company’s first ever billboard in Times Square.

The campaign has largely been successful, drumming up conversation amongst BeReal users and marketers alike. But is it enough to bring the platform back in full force? 

Although a world where BeReal completely disappears from the online sphere seems unlikely, it is almost impossible to imagine that it will once again reach its pandemic levels of popularity. A future where BeReal returns to its Pandemic era dominance would require a complete reshaping of user relationships with authenticity and social media. 

BeReal’s fall from grace brings up an interesting conversation on our desire for genuinity on social media. For years, audiences have been demanding more authenticity online. People claim that they want to see real life reflected to them on their screens. Yet, BeReal did this, and it was the cause of its demise. 

Challenger apps: BeReal

Founded in 2022, was born with the intention of establishing a space where creators can come together. Through the platform, creators are able to anonymously ask questions, provide advice, set up collabs and more. The app was created by an ex-TikTok employee turned creator, who saw many creators struggling to understand the many ins and outs of the creator economy. 

However, whilst this need may be prevalent in the creator community, is still amongst the many challenger apps yet to properly pick up steam.  

At present, the platform is invitation-only, and data on the number of users has not been made public. As with many challenger apps, is still in its Beta format, meaning it is unavailable for download. 

Looking at the company’s social media presence however, reveals a lack of engagement and poor following. Given this, it seems dubious that will last. Though it does cater to a large hole in available challenger apps and social media platforms, the platform seems to simply not be catching on.


One of the dozens of challenger apps launched in mid 2023, Cliq is still very much in its infancy. 

The app was created to provide its users with a way to make real-life connections outside of social media. Cliq describes itself as a way to meet people in like-minded communities and build friendships that exist beyond your phone. 

Through the app, users can create communities, schedule meetups and events, and communicate with like-minded people. The app and its creators have claimed that the platform has had thousands of download’s since its creation, whilst Google Play reports that 500 plus downloads have occurred. 

Ultimately, Cliq is attempting to cater to a need that is already being addressed by many other apps. Meetup, for example, functions in an incredibly similar manner to Cliq, and has been successful since 2002. 

Unless Cliq manages to carve out a new space for itself – a feat which it’s yet to accomplish – it’s not a stretch to claim that it won’t become a permanent fixture amongst challenger apps and social media platforms. 

Challenger apps: Cliq

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Ella Proctor

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