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Facebook's new 'Instant Articles' feature: the pros and cons for publishers

Facebook recently rolled out Instant Articles, allowing publishers to post complete editorial pieces directly within the social network.

Although initially trialling with selected media outlets (including National Geographic and BuzzFeed) Instant Articles has brought with it the sense of great opportunity –as well as that of impending threat – among the publishing and marketing world. But is Instant Articles a true game-changer for brands? And what are the potential pros and cons?

As far as readers are concerned, Instant Articles is a subtle interface tweak with great effect on user experience. Until now, readers have had to click on a link in their News Feed and wait for an external site to load. Now they can enjoy a seamless, deep reading experience, without interruption to the flow of their Facebook session.

That reading experience is also a richer, more beautiful one. With functionality that allows for slickly rendered auto-play video, interactive images, infographics and audio features within articles – at loading speeds up to 10 times faster than the standard mobile web – Facebook has crafted something that elevates a publisher’s content into more compelling, vivid, and imaginative experiences for readers, right where they know those readers will be found.

Facebook has also provided additional buy-in incentives: a brand’s original site ads will be included in an Instant Articles piece, with the publisher seeing 100% of the revenue. In addition, publishers will also keep 30% of any ad revenue Facebook generates against their content. They will also have the ability to maintain control over how the content is presented via customised News Feed branding.

On the face of it, Instant Articles appears to be a win-win proposition for all parties concerned – readers, publishers, and of course, Facebook. However, it's also worth assessing the potential drawbacks to the offering.

Facebook has long been the biggest driver of social referral traffic to websites. According to the latest Shareaholic Social Media Traffic Report, in December 2014, social media platforms drove 31.24% of overall traffic to sites, with Facebook accounting for the lion's share (24.63%) of these referrals – putting Pinterest in distant second place, accounting for 5.06% of social referrals.

However, with the advent of Instant Articles, it seems likely that publishers will see a drop in social referral traffic as readers remain on Facebook instead of clicking through to view content on the publisher site. With fewer users accessing content on-site, publishers may also see average engagement metrics (such as dwell time) start to dip.

This potential drop in traffic and on-site engagement is something that publishers (including brands, and marketing teams, once Instant Articles becomes available to a wider pool of organisations) will need to be prepared for, if planning to adopt Facebook's proposition.

Having a strong multi-channel content strategy in place that is designed to promote engagement across all touch points will help brands to maintain direct conversations with their consumers and ensure that on-site content and traffic doesn't suffer.

censhare's sophisticated editorial, mobile and social media management system can help you to deliver your multichannel strategy efficiently, seamlessly and at scale, throughout the customer journey.

View our engagement solutions to find out more.