Like many singers, Piper Rockelle has a link at the top of her TikTok profile page where her more than 8 million followers can experience her music. But instead of sending them to YouTube or Spotify, the link opens an external landing page filled with a bit of everything. Splattered over a looping clip of Rockelle is a stack of hyperlinked blocks that direct fans to her merchandise store, tour schedule, and latest music video. You’ll also find a “love pot” that lets her accept tips, an “Ask me anything” form, an app where you can pay to challenge Rockelle, and a private social feed that fans can unlock either send money or answer a trivial question correctly.
It’s all contained in Rockelle’s “link-in-bio,” one of the most coveted real estate on Instagram and TikTok. Both platforms are hyperlink deserts: users can only post one or two external links. all over on the sites, and most importantly appears, yes, in the bio at the top of their profile. But why link to a single page if it’s not really necessary? For the past few years, start-ups have been trying to maximize space by offering simple, uncluttered landing pages that stack multiple links on top of each other.
They are no longer so simple. An explosion of companies with names like Shorby, Linkin.bio, Beacons, Tab Bio, and Koji — Rockelle’s tool of choice — gives the link-in-bio a boost. Instead of just hosting links, links in the bios now allow their users to, for example, embed a Spotify song, pay for a newsletter, and view NFTs (non-fungible tokens). These upgrades transform the humble link in the bio into a sprawling interactive page that rivals the capabilities of full websites. Links in the bios don’t mature on their own: influencers are now leveraging their followers to create increasingly sophisticated commercial behemoths that include merchandising, brand endorsements, and music releases. For these Instagram and TikTok stars, a simplified listings page is no longer enough.
If you know a link-in-bio company by name, it’s probably Linktree. The company, which told me it currently has over 20 million users, popularized the link-in-bio and became a staple of social media. Although Linktree is most common on Instagram and TikTok, its minimalist pages appear everywhere and have come to define the appearance of all other links in the bios. Major influencers and news sites use Linktree, but so do more regular users who promote their works or acting reels. In a study carried out for Atlanticweb analytics firm Parse.ly estimated that Linktree links account for nearly half of all link-in-bio traffic on Instagram.
And yet, Linktree is now stuffing those links with new features. Over the past year, Linktree has introduced tip jars that integrate with PayPal and Square, partnered with merchandise brand Spring to allow influencers to sell swag directly from their link in the bios and acquired a music link company that offers better song analytics and preview than Linktree itself. It has also partnered with Shopify, a company that builds e-commerce stores for websites, to allow influencers and brands to add their product catalog to their link in bio.
Even big companies like Qantas Airlines, Red Bull, and the Los Angeles Clippers have started putting a Linktree in their Instagram and TikTok bios, Linktree co-founder and chief commercial officer Anthony Zaccaria told me. These companies all have expensive websites, but he said the links in bios have come to represent a space between social media and websites: a regularly updated page where artists can plug in their new music, airlines can promote their new flight routes, and even non-influencers can list the TV shows they’re currently watching. While a traditional website might remain relatively static over time – an airline like Qantas, for example, will always want their flight booking tool to be front and center – a link in bio is a kind of page. ever-changing home, the perfect place for brands and influencers to host updates or tout new products. Scrolling through one of these can feel like scanning the heavily curated highlights of someone’s social feed.
A flurry of competitors now vie to challenge Linktree’s dominance. “I think companies basically skated by offering a really functional basic service for creators who needed to connect in multiple places,” Lia Haberman, professor of influencer marketing at UCLA, told me. That changed once investors recognized that the growing business needs of creators could turn these social media stars into big moneymakers, Haberman said. In 2021, venture capitalists poured an estimated $5 billion into the creator economy, and link-in-bio start-ups have been caught up in this frenzy.
As influencers exploit even more ways to make money, links in the bio are starting to do… a bit of everything. Koji, which was founded in 2016 and has 120,000 users, has created an online store of 197 mini-apps that can live inside every link in the bio, including NFT screens, paid photos, quiz, premium content for subscribers, and a Cameo doppelgänger called Shoutout. “The link in the bio is like a shell; it’s like a canvas on which you can choose to add these tools,” Dmitry Shapiro, co-founder of Koji, told me. A rival called Snipfeed allows its influencers to sell tickets for virtual meetings; Beacons, whose more than one million users include singer Sia and director Quentin Tarantino, offers a calendar where fans can pay to hang out with an influencer.
While companies such as Koji and Linktree strive to attract as many people as possible, others believe they can stand out by focusing on a niche, betting that influencers focus on specific industries they will need a more tailored set of features. Linkfire, which targets musicians such as Justin Bieber, has partnerships with Apple Music, Pandora and YouTube Music to provide its customers with more detailed data on audiences streaming their music after visiting a Linkfire link. Meanwhile, TikTok’s hyper-popular cooking videos can be hard to follow, which is why start-up Provecho is building a link in the bios centered around displaying recipes. Brands can sponsor the ingredients in each recipe, giving influencers a way to earn money with their creations, Provecho co-founder Conrad DeMasi told me.
Overall, these linking tools make money from a whirlwind of paid subscription programs and commissions on transactions that occur inside the link in bio. It’s unclear if that’s enough to keep a business profitable, but it’s easy to envision a future in which links in bios become even more ubiquitous, something like the new personal website in the TikTok era. When you come across an influencer and want to know what their offer is, your first stop will be their link in bio.
Yet, link-in-bio businesses have built-in risks that can make the idea of them sticking around for the long haul seem like a fantasy. They depend almost entirely on Instagram and TikTok for their traffic. If both platforms wanted to, they could replicate many of the new tools deployed by link-in-bio companies. “Instagram’s specialty is finding other third-party services that build things on top of their platform and then duplicate those services themselves,” Haberman said. For example, after Instagram users started posting affiliate links on Amazon and other e-commerce sites in order to earn a commission on the products they tout, the platform introduced its own affiliate tool that prevents users from leaving Instagram.
For now, link-in-bio companies have no choice but to continue to evolve. It wasn’t too long ago that the prototypical influencer simply posted pictures of themselves, but now they’ve grown to become a small business in their own right. TikTok and Instagram stars regularly land six-figure endorsement deals, and there are so many. More than 50 million people around the world now identify themselves as creators, which means influencer services are fast becoming a big industry. A fintech startup called Karat Financial aims to create a bank for influencers that makes loans to businesses partly based on the number of followers. Another company, Pietra, connects influencers with manufacturers to help them launch their own product lines. “Every platform, whether it’s a social media network, a retailer, a link-in-bio service, is vying to be the destination creators will use to monetize their influence. “, said Haberman. “All of a sudden, I think link-in-bio services realized that what they had been offering for so many years was no longer good enough.”