The introduction of Instant Articles by Facebook last year put in motion the debate whether it would be the end of the media as we know it and the start of something bigger and grander, or if it’s just an ephemeral gimmick.
In Instant Articles we have a new publishing platform that gives content the spotlight it deserves in our crammed social news feeds.
It sounds and looks delightful. But what does it mean for us marketers?
What is Instant Articles?
In simple terms, Instant Articles is a Facebook program which helps users read the articles that appear in their news feeds in, literally, an instant. These articles are interactive and load at 1/10th the speed of a regular mobile page. This is decidedly faster than having a separate window pop up in the browser and waiting for it to load.
Users also won’t have to leave the app in order to read these articles. Facebook thinks this will result in larger amounts of content being consumed and shared.
Publishers can take advantage of this platform and the slew of features it offers to make their content rich and visually appealing, ultimately delivering what they hope would be a memorable user experience.
Readers can zoom into images and pan across them with a tilt of their device. Videos can auto play and maps are interactive.
In short, articles will be easier and more fun to read!
Publishers won’t have to do anything extra to push their content through Instant Articles. They can do so from right inside their CMS.
Facebook has been thoughtful enough to let the publishers keep the color scheme, typeface, and design true to their brand identities so that users instantly know whose article they are reading.
Furthermore, they can bring their sponsored ads with them. They get to keep “100% of the revenue… track data on the ads served through their existing ad measurement systems, or they can monetize their content through the Facebook Audience Network.”
The terms of Instant Articles look very enticing as of now.
What does this mean for Content Marketing
Content reading is all set to become an immersive experience.
Instant Articles is a beautiful platform for big-name publishers to promote their content. We can expect an uptick in readership of these organizations.
As of April 12, Facebook will make this platform available to publishers and bloggers of all kinds, big or small, anywhere in the world, and then we can expect a new race to start.
A race where even small firms would want to make the most of the multimedia features that Instant Articles offers. The beauty of the Internet is that anyone can make an impact, as long as they are able to leverage the right kind of tools. Enterprising bloggers can make a mark with visually captivating content.
Users will stay within Facebook for longer
It is widely expected that being able to read articles from within the app will lead to larger consumption of content in general. Admittedly, we all get mildly annoyed at being led to a new browser window upon clicking a headline of interest in our news feed. These fast-loading articles will be refreshing indeed!
It’s not a stretch to think that this feature will be embraced by content consumers and therefore content marketers should welcome it as well. After all, we are all grappling for ways to get our articles read by the right audience and this is yet another platform to achieve just that.
Businesses who are able to take advantage of this platform will stand to gain the attention of the readership they are trying to reach. Since this does not involve learning new tools and techniques, and can be published to from within the CMS itself, I expect more and more businesses, as well as individual bloggers, to try it out.
Publishers can find bigger readerships
Facebook attracts more than a billion people and many of them are increasingly using their accounts as news feeds on top of all the social networking.
Facebook’s interest-based delivery of content to users, as well as suggested posts and pages to like, can bring ever increasing numbers of readers as far as B2C content is concerned, especially when that content is presented in an attractive format.
Could it impact site analytics?
Facebook says that publishers can track article traffic using their existing Web-based analytics tools.
As of now, analytics tools only tell us who reads our content based on the number of visits it drives to our websites.
Web analytics tools are unable to track or measure various means of content sharing, especially private digital communication, a phenomenon known as “dark social.”
Posts shared via WhatsApp, Evernote, email, instant messaging for instance, from within news aggregator apps do not figure in the data tracked by analytics tools. Would the content shared through Inside Articles go the same way?
We’ll find out soon!
So is Instant Articles good or bad?
It has its strengths and does look very appealing from the end-user point of view.
If someone promised me that all my favorite articles would appear in a beautiful format on my Facebook news feed and that I could read them without having to leave the app, or having to wait even 8 seconds for the article to load, I’d be delighted!
As a user that is the kind of uninterrupted and immersive content experience that I seek.
It’s easily a big plus for Facebook, who will get users to stay within the app for extended periods of time.
But, and this is a big but, will Facebook continue to be as generous as it is with low ad revenue margins for publishers? This is where it could all come undone. It has already made some concessions to the publishers after they said that in its initial form it would have been too difficult for them to generate revenue from Instant Articles.
As of now, the platform is offered for free to all publishers. If they choose to make use of its Facebook Audience Network program, they get to keep 70% of what they make. But I suspect this will go up as it gets more and more publishers to sign up for Instant Articles.
In any case, Facebook can revise the terms anytime it feels like, especially if the platform proves to be a huge hit.
So, time will tell.
As of now, let’s keep our focus where it should belong – on creating high-quality and useful content for our audiences. The number and nature of distribution channels will change but it will only be of use to the publishers if the content being distributed is of value to its consumers. For now, though, enjoy the ride!