Facebook’s Instant Articles – Yay or Nay?

by | Jul 5, 2017

Instant Articles are a quick-loading news format, hosted on Facebook’s own servers, which open inside the Facebook app. They appear on your newsfeed with small lightening bolt icon alongside them and chances are that, even if you didn’t know what they were called, you have read some on Facebook.

Instant Articles were trialled back in 2015 when a group of major publishers, including The New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian were among the guinea pigs.

There was a great deal of anxiety about Instant Articles amongst news outlets who were concerned about ad revenue, content exclusivity, the fact that IAs open within Facebook and don’t send readers to the publisher’s website and an increasing dependence on Facebook for traffic in general.

(I read recently that in 2015 just before IA’s launched The Times was already receiving around 15% of its traffic from Facebook, a figure which had doubled from the previous year).

Facebook tried to assuage many of the concerns, promising publishers that they could keep their ad revenue and still publish the same content on their websites and IAs were rolled out to all publishers in April 2016.

The main benefit of Instant Articles is that they load very quickly, in fact, Facebook claims up to 10 times faster than Facebook links which take users back to the publisher’s own website. Engagement stats look good too, with Facebook saying that people are 20% more likely to engage with Instant Articles, 70% less likely to abandon them and 30% more likely to share them.

All good news for Facebook and consumers, but what about publishers? How have they balanced these increased levels of engagement within Facebook against not sending users back to their own websites where they can possibly monetise them more effectively and gather reader data?

In April this year, The Guardian, who were one of the very first adopters of IAs, announced that it was pulling out of using them, taking the view that it could make more money by bringing readers to their own website, serving them ads and promoting their membership scheme. Other publishers including the BBC and National Geographic now seem to be running fewer articles within the format and The New York Times has also pulled out altogether.

So is it worth a try?

While here at Sotic we will always argue that the website is King, we don’t see, in the case of our particular clients, that sharing (not exclusively giving) some website content in the form of Instant Articles is selling your soul to Facebook, but rather, it’s a way to mix things up and take advantage of the fast loading times and high levels of engagement amongst Facebook users. For now anyway.

Unlike the major news outlets our clients are generally not heavily reliant on ad revenue from their websites and new IA features, which have come about through the Facebook Journalism Project such as ‘call-to-action units’ (see Huff Post example alongside for ezine sign-up) and more flexibility around where/ how often ads can appear can now be used to drive email sign-ups, push readers back to the website or promote ticketing, merchandise or partnership messaging.

Sotic have made the ability to publish content as an Instant Article on Facebook while simultaneously publishing it on their website available to all clients. They have the option to decide which articles are to be IAs on Facebook and which aren’t simply by ticking a box and we are also able to track IA views within Google Analytics.