Facebook has been working consistently to become a giant in not only social media, but media as a whole.
The latest manifestation of this goal is Instant Articles, a platform that integrates written content into Facebook for faster loading times and an enhanced reading experience.
The new publishing platform is designed to create a seamless reading experience for users, particularly mobile users, and opens up a new way of publishing for content creators.
As the platform rolls out, it’s worth asking who Instant Articles will actually help. While users and Facebook itself stand to gain, the benefits to publishers are debatable.
Instant Articles is essentially a new format for stories. Facebook has launched it in partnership with an impressive collection of nine publishers, including The New York Times, National Geographic, BBC News, NBC News, BuzzFeed, and The Atlantic.
These publishers can now post articles to Facebook in the Instant Articles format. These stories will look the same as previous stories in the News Feed. When a user clicks on the story, however, instead of being taken to the publisher’s site, the article will open right in Facebook.
The biggest difference is the loading time: Instant Articles load instantly. This is a big difference from the average 8 seconds it takes for an article to load on mobile devices.
The fast loading time is the primary benefit to users, and it stands to help publishers as well. 8 seconds is often too long for the patience of a mobile user, and many potential viewers will close a site due to a slow loading time.
Users will also likely appreciate the integrated reading experience. When viewing a story through Instant Articles, you never really leave Facebook. You can simply swipe right to go directly back to your News Feed. This makes a pretty seamless experience for Facebook users.
The fast loading time means that Instant Articles might help publishers to get more traffic. They might also get improved engagement, as stories on Instant Articles are easy to share and comment on within Facebook.
Instant Articles comes with plenty of bells and whistles to make the articles attractive and engaging. Like videos in the Facebook News Feed, videos within Instant Articles stories will autoplay. Publishers can also add interactive maps, GIFs, and high-resolution photos with features such as tilt-to-zoom, audio captions, and scrolling. These tools are designed to create a great reading experience on mobile devices. Publishers can also sell ads within their articles, so they can continue to earn ad revenue without giving a chunk to Facebook.
However, there are some downsides for publishers. The first is that stories published through Instant Articles lose much of their branding.
There are options to customize the font and appearance of an article, but articles lose much of the branding that connects them back to the publisher’s site. The primary difference is that Instant Articles slims down site navigation.
An article on The New York Times website includes a scrolling bar of related articles along the top of the page, more related articles and currently popular articles at the bottom, and a sidebar with options to share the article on multiple social media platforms.
Through Instant Articles, this is whittled down to three links to additional stories at the bottom of the article. At the top of the article, you’ll see a logo for the publisher and a prominent link to follow that publisher on Facebook. You’ll also see links to share the story on Facebook. All of these tools are designed to keep users on Facebook, rather than on the publisher’s website.
This lack of branding could be a significant cost for publishers. Instant Articles focuses on the individual story, rather than the publisher behind it.
This means that articles may be getting more views, but users are less likely to form a connection with the publisher and continue browsing other articles. This could harm long-term conversion rates. In the end, the answer to “Who does Instant Articles benefit” may depend on what you’re hoping to get out of it. It can be a great tool to deliver a streamlined reading process and increased traffic. It seems to come with the price of surrendering control and branding, however. The trade-off is likely worth it for many.
To find out more information, you can visit the Instant Articles website. If you’re interested in publishing through Instant Articles, you can submit a form to Facebook to find out more.
Written by content manager Meghan Woolley, Social Image
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