InstantArticles is a new Facebook offering that will change the way Facebook users interact with article content - but what does it mean for publishers?
InstantArticles allow the user to read an entire article without ever having to leave the Facebook environment. Until now, if you see an article on your Facebook timeline and choose to read it, you'd be seeing the article from the publishers website loaded inside Facebook's browser. Now, with InstantArticles, this content is actually viewed within Facebook.
How it works
Facebook will read a special feed (via their API or RSS) that will come directly from a publisher’s website. The feed will supply Facebook with the text, images and other data which Facebook then saves and hosts the content from their servers. By both removing the need to launch another website and hosting content on their own servers Facebook, will be able to deliver content at much faster speeds than are currently experienced.
Publishers will need to manage the feed themselves but there are already a number of Wordpress plugins currently in development - and it will be easy enough to implement across platforms.
What's the benefit?
Facebook has released this feature as a way to standardise the experience for end users, by taking control of the content and display.
Users will no longer be forced to click on a link, wait for a new website to launch in a new window, navigate through a new format and be subjected to pop-up ads and sign-up requests. In the brave new world of InstantArticles, content will be delivered in a streamlined form at record speeds.
Content loads faster from Facebook's services
Instead of content loading from publishers servers (of varying qualities), the content is cached on Facebook's services which are able to deliver content faster, making them more 'Instant'.
Facebook is claiming this can be over 10x faster for mobile.
Content display is standardised
Instead of using the publishers website templates to display content, InstantArticles delivers the content using a standard template. As a result, the view of articles will be consistent, regardless of the design of the publishes website.
This creates a level playing field for publishers, where it's the actual content which wins audiences (not how it's displayed).
Facebook claims users are 70% less likely to abandon an InstantArticle.
What does it mean for publishers?
Facebook wants to take your brand out of the picture
So far, all of this sounds fantastic – but is there a dark side to Facebook's push to control content?
With InstantArticles, Facebook wants to keep users from leaving the Facebook experience. They're taking and delivering your content for you, and users aren't actually visiting your website. If you've invested into developing a fantastic user experience and rich brand, users won't see this!
As an example, if you click a publishers logo you'd generally expect to be directed to the websites home page. With InstantArticles, the user is directed to the brands Facebook page.
By reducing the role of your brand, will users be less likely to visit your site or follow you? If you're a well recognised brand (say National Geographic) this might not be an issue, but if you're a new or niche brand then it might be a real issue (leading to reduced recognition and overall engagement).
Check out Facebook's guide on InstantArticle design here to see the limited customisation options available.
Advertising within your article
Of course, if you're owning the content network, you also want to own the ads too, don't you?
There are 2 ways you can manage display ads via InstantArticles:
- Facebook's Audience Network
Facebook wants to grow their Audience Network, so this is the default method. Facebook will display ads with your content, and will pay you variable % commission for this traffic. This is great for smaller publishers who haven't established their ad network.
- Direct-Sold Ads
If you're an established publisher, you probably won't want to share 25% - 30% of your revenue with Facebook! Importantly, Facebook will allow you to display your own ads to keep 100% of your revenue. As a nice touch, if you have unsold inventory, you can use Audience Network to fill these gaps.
- Branded content
Ok ok, I know it's 2016 – Branded, sponsored content is probably much more important to you. Facebook has added some nice features to help support this. Under Facebook's policy, you'll need to tag this content appropriately.
While users won't actually be visiting your website, Facebook wants you to feel like they are. In additional to Facebook's own measurement on InstantArticles, you can also embed all of your standard tracking within an InstantArticle. A user viewing an InstantArticle can be tracked as a page view, say within Google Analytics.
So, you'll still feel like you got a 'visit', but was it really the same? Hopefully the user loved your content and, as a result, wanted to follow your brand - because you weren't able to use any other strategy to win their attention.
Will the internet be better when everything looks the same and loads faster? While there's a number of benefits to users, the picture might not be so clear for publishers. Before you jump on the bandwagon, I'd suggest you consider what impact it will have on your brand and engagement.
Here's a few things to consider:
- In a competitive landscape, where brands compete for users attention, what impact will InstantArticles have on your brand?
- Is your content enough alone to motivate users to follow your brand, or heaven forbid, even visit your website?
- If you do use it, watch your analytics closely to see how this changes user behavior
- Will Facebook's policies for sponsored content work for your brand?
- What happens if Facebook changes InstantArticles?
If you're a publisher and you're using InstantArticles, we'd love to hear how it's working for you!