Will Facebook Instant Articles Be Disruptive to Your Business?



Facebook remains committed to Instant Articles as the future of publishing, but will pushback from major publishers change their minds in 2016?

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Facebook Instant Articles have been on the scene for a few months now, but reactions to the new feature have been mixed from both users and publishers. Introduced as a way to cut out the “middle man” between Facebook users and publishers, Instant Articles promised to offer publishers a new way to connect with their online readers—but the feature isn’t being adopted as readily or as effectively as either party would have predicted.

When they first emerged, Facebook Instant Articles were thought to be disruptive in the world of online publication—but are they turning out to be a disappointment instead?

How Instant Articles Work

The concept behind Instant Articles is fairly simple. Rolled out to a handful of elite publishers, the tool allows businesses to publish material directly to the social media app. The process utilizes existing workflows and an intuitive integration, so the learning curve is practically nonexistent. Since the service is purported to load articles fast to a great number of users, it seems like an attractive and worthwhile concept—these articles are “pre-loaded” as users scroll down the Facebook app, drastically reducing loading times and allowing users to read the whole article without clicking away.

Instant Articles has been available for iPhone devices since early October, and are now rolling out to Android devices. Instant Articles are also going international, now available in India and soon to be more countries.

The Idea

Instant Articles were intended to be a “best of all worlds” solution for users, publishers, and Facebook itself all at once. Facebook noticed that for many articles, a majority of traffic came from people clicking on links shared on Facebook (rather than accessing the material directly on the publisher’s site). Offering the content directly saves time for the user, increases the number of people who read the material for the publisher, and for Facebook, keeps users on Facebook longer. The only major drawback for publishers is fewer direct visits to their respective publication channels, but because they are allowed to feature some forms of advertising, they can still generate revenue directly.

The Reality

Unfortunately, publishers are beginning to notice that Instant Articles aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. According to the Wall Street Journal, publishers are already starting to push back against the concept. The increase in article loading speed has been significant and considerable, but major publishers like the Washington Post and the New York Times are finding the amount of revenue available for Instant Articles to be far less than articles posted on their own sites.

The main reason cited for this is the strict limitations Facebook has put on advertising in Instant Articles. Currently, publishers are only allowed to include one banner ad for every 500 words of text, and only certain types of ads are allowed—for example, rich media ads and ads that encourage interaction with the content itself are not acceptable. Considering publishers are responsible for finding their own advertisements (or are forced to give a 30 percent cut to Facebook), this isn’t the best possible scenario.

Is There a Future for Instant Articles?

There are two promising opportunities for Instant Articles to continue growing. The first is the fact that advertisers at Facebook are currently contemplating new adjustments to its advertising model. In response to these publisher concerns, they could easily allow more flexible ad options, such as increasing the maximum limit of ads per article or allowing more ad types to help publishers get the revenue they desire.

The second opportunity is in the growth potential of Instant Articles. Facebook has full control over what content gets prioritized in user newsfeeds. With a few simple adjustments, it could easily make Instant Articles the dominant force in social visibility, greatly increasing impressions for select publishers at the expense of organic visibility for others.

Either way, Facebook remains committed to Instant Articles as the future of publishing. Despite its current limitations and pushback from major publishers, the platform remains being used and could evolve into something much bigger and better (given enough time and effort from the Facebook team).

What This Means for Other Publishers

If Facebook strong-arms Instant Articles to being the best way to achieve visibility on the platform, organic visibility for other marketers and publishers is going to plummet. That means you’d be almost forced to pay for advertising to get more visibility on the platform, or apply to be a selected publisher on Instant Articles and hope to get selected. To make things even more complicated, if Instant Articles performs well, similar models could be adopted on other social media sites, changing the landscape of how syndicated content can reach large audiences.

Since Instant Articles isn’t the smash hit Facebook expected it to be, chances are these changes will occur gradually—if they even occur at all. Keep a close eye on developments in the social publication world, and don’t be afraid to adjust your strategy accordingly. The more proactive you are, the more likely it is that your tactics will pay off.

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