Early Returns on Facebook's Instant Articles Indicate Good Cooperation

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It has been about three months since Facebook's Instant Articles became a new platform for publishers to reach readers—first only those with iPhones but now Android users as well. There is a guide on Facebook on how to publish there—the easiest way to distribute Instant Articles is through a secure RSS feed. (Facebook is an SIIA member.)

The two big advantages for publishers are 1) the mobile load time of your content on Facebook should be instant, as opposed to linking back to your site to open; and 2) the amazing reach of Facebook (1.5 billion users). The main disadvantages are 1) readers aren't going directly to your site, and all that goes along with that; and 2) you lose the full data path of new readers.

Most of the quotes I've found are from bigger publishers, so if you have had any experience with this, I'd love to hear about it. Facebook may now drive the most traffic to news sites, causing some experts to say that publishers can't afford to not be there. But then AdWeek wrote that if publishers don't fight to build audience internally, "their readers will cease to become theirs, and will simply become people who occasionally consume their content."

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle meaning it's worth exploring.

Facebook has said the right things to court publishers. "...We have to think hard about how we can create a value exchange, to encourage companies...to really want to put their content into our system. In order to do that, they obviously have to be able to generate value from it," said Dan Rose, Facebook's VP of partnerships."

They have also responded quickly to complaints, now allowing publishers to include more advertising in each article and to sell Facebook-only ad campaigns to marketers if they wish. Publishers also now have the option to highlight and link to specific content hosted on their own sites from the "related articles" section at the bottom of Instant Articles templates, including branded or sponsored posts.

In an article on Shweiki Media, marketing strategist Jon Loomer explains other advantages for the publisher:

"...[the user] can play videos that will appear within the article. Users will also be able to flip side to side, up and down to view different content and there are also maps they can engage with. There are all kinds of things that provide a richer experience than being on a website. Marketers also still get the traffic because it is still coming from the feed from their site...

"There are links that continuously link out to the website. You can have ads or Facebook ads placed in the article and you can still put whatever it is you're tracking into that same article."

The Nieman Lab site quoted three current publishers using it:

- Julia Beizer, director of mobile products for The Washington Post, said that Facebook allowed them to do their own analytics tracking, including comScore, and other customizations. Their best success metric has been visitors returning within a week. "Whether they know outright or just subconsciously know that the article's going to load faster, I can't speak to that," she said. "But we certainly are seeing more engagement..."

- Kimberly Lau, VP and general manager of Atlantic Digital, said that Facebook is giving them data article by article—page views, scroll depth. A drawback is that the URL is the same on Facebook and your own site, so you can't tell where the shares—which have gone up for them—are coming from. But the odds are most come from Facebook.

- Dan Check, vice chairman of Slate, said that "we push any article that we know we can display properly on Instant Articles... We had one of our best traffic months ever [recently], and we think that Instant Articles played a role in that, either by bringing more people into the Instant Articles or by shares that were generated off of them."

Speaking about their own all-in status,

Cory Haik,

executive director of emerging news products for The Washington Post, said: "The thing that we've really learned with [Post owner] Jeff Bezos is that experimentation at scale is really the right way to do it. There's not a risk. It's not a one-way door. Why not be all the way in?"

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…