Did Instagram Just Kill Linktree?

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Illustration: Anjali Nair

Apr 19, 2023 10:45 AM

Did Instagram Just Kill Linktree?

Meta is finally allowing people to add more links to their Instagram profiles. It’s an existential threat to link-in-bio companies.

Thirteen months ago, Linktree, the link-in-bio company that allows creators to collect links to different platforms in a single, easily digestible page, announced its latest funding round. The $110 million of investment from financial backers including Index Ventures and Coatue Management put Linktree in a pretty enviable position: It was valued at $1.3 billion.

Just over a year on, things look different. On his Instagram account, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Instagram users can now add up to five links to their bio on the app. “Probably one of the most requested features we’ve had,” he wrote.

Creators have reacted with joy at being able to more easily integrate outside links into their Instagram profiles—up until now, they’ve had to put them all onto a Linktree page or one provided by a competitor, then place that into their bio. “For anyone who’s struggled to prioritize the link they include in their Instagram bio, this is a much-needed update,” says Lia Haberman, a social media marketing consultant and instructor at UCLA.

But Meta’s move may have just torpedoed Linktree and the wider link-in-bio economy. Some tech watchers reacted to the news by tweeting clips from The Office of Michael Scott shouting, “No god! No, god, please no. No, no, noooooo!”

But a move like this was inevitable, argue some social media analysts. “Meta was trying to experiment with people paying for things, on Instagram in particular—like their subscription features and now verification—so it seemed like a no-brainer to eventually allow multiple links and potentially even charge for it down the road,” says Greg Baroth, a Los Angeles–based digital marketing consultant who tweeted “RIP all the link in bio companies” when the feature was announced. “So many people use the many ‘link-in-bio’ companies that have popped up—and pay for them—that they deemed it worthy of implementing,” he adds. Meta, Instagram’s parent company, did not respond to a request to comment.

The Instagram change has been tested with some users for several months, including with Sandra Colton-Medici, a doctor and author. However, Colton-Medici has decided she’ll be sticking with Linktree. “Finding new ways to drive audiences off-platform is one of the top priorities for businesses utilizing social media,” she says. “Instagram’s introduction of the profile multi-link option forces the user to choose a link in the app and then return to the app should they want to view another link.” That added friction is one that Colton-Medici thinks benefits Instagram, but not her audience.

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She calls Instagram’s change in link numbers “admirable,” but says that the features it provides are sparse. Linktree allows users to customize the page an audience member arrives at. When Colton-Medici tested out Instagram’s feature, it showed one link, plus a clickable “see more” link that would unroll the four others. “This hidden aspect of the five links didn’t readily scream, ‘Pick me, choose me, love me’," she says. “Instead, users will benefit more by choosing one link to direct their audiences that firmly prioritizes and highlights their content strategy versus allowing users to meander with no clear focus.”

It’s for that reason that Baroth and Haberman—despite the former tweeting a death sentence for the link-in-bio startup economy—think companies like Linktree and Linkin.bio will survive. “You can do more than just links, so I don’t think it means it’s the death of any of them, but I certainly think it changes how big those companies can really get to,” Baroth says. “I’m not sure what their exit strategies were before this.”

Those strategies might be evident in a well-timed tweet on April 17 by Lara Cohen, a former Twitter employee who has since become the vice president of partners and business development at Linktree. “Realizing that so many people just think of us as a dead simple link in bio solution. no shade! i thought the same when i got call about gig,” she wrote. “a platform agnostic place where u can hub all your stuff has never been more important than right now.”

Cohen wrote that the “secret sauce” that Linktree possesses is its strong analytics, its ability to track users as they click through the links in people’s bios. Linktree did not respond to a request to comment for this story, though it did tweet a screenshot of Meta’s Instagram profile, which included a link to the company’s own Linktree. (That link has now been replaced with one directing users to Meta’s About page.)

“I don’t think this automatically eliminates the need for link-in-bio services like Linktree or Linkin.bio,” says Haberman. “They still have more robust offerings, both in terms of the data they offer and the ability to customize layouts around the links.” Haberman points out that there’s also another large platform popular with creators—TikTok—where link-in-bio services are still needed due to limitations on the maximum number of links available to use.

Haberman believes that Instagram is likely to roll out analytics to its own link-in-bio service should it prove popular and is requested by the user base, the same way that Zuckerberg claims the change in the number of links came about because of user feedback. But she also points out that it isn’t a given with Meta, which starts plenty of projects that don’t come to fruition. “You never know with Instagram,” she says. “If for some reason the link feature falls out of favor, the entire project could languish with no updates.”

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Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance journalist and WIRED contributor. He is the author of YouTubers: How YouTube Shook up TVand Created a New Generation of Stars, and TikTok Boom: China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media. His work has also appeared in TheNew York Times,… Read more
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