Last week, Facebook launched the Instant Article feature on its iOS app with nine media partners: The New York Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlanic, National Geographic, NBC News, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel Online, and Bild. Instant Articles appear directly in Facebook mobile feeds without users having to click to the publisher’s website. The feature will have large implications for publishers and consumers. It will be fun to watch the whole thing play out. Here are the five things to get you up to speed on Instant Articles.
1. It’s an upgrade for content consumption
Linking off of Facebook to articles can be brutal for a few reasons. Mainly:
- articles can take forever to load (5 seconds and most of us are gone)
- most mobile websites are awful
- when we link off and then feel like victims of click-bait, we get salty
So, from a user experience perspective, Facebook Instant Articles look and feel like a compelling and interesting upgrade. We’ll get beautiful news content that loads immediately. The content will be clean and fast. Facebook fundamtentally gets how to deliver content on mobile devices and most of large media companies don’t. The early Instant Article entries stand out in our feed because of their autoload preview videos. When we click through we get highly immersive content features:
- high res, high impact images that can be scaled and navigated by tilting the device from left to right
- elegant audio overlays that add additional commentary from the authors and photographers
2. BuzzFeed’s first post is a great showcase of the potential
BuzzFeed took their viral expertise to the new feature with their kick-off post titled 13 Steps to Instantly Improve Your Day. They seemingly used all the new Facebook publishing tools available to them and created an experience that represents a great showcase for the future of mobile content:
- scrolling up and down and right and left
- large embedded video content
- audio integration
- great use of right to left tilt to view larger images
I had a similar thought when Snapchat Discovery launched – at first brands are almost trying too hard to show off all their mobile friendliness, but when they settle down a bit, the content actually makes mobile content consumption truly enjoyable.
3. Facebook is starting out with publisher friendly terms
Facebook has given it’s launch partners favorable terms. The publishers can sell their own ads against the content and keep 100% of the money. If Facebook ends up selling the ads, they give the publishers 70%. They are also allowing sponored content beyond just banner advertising. The feature includes customization tools so that publishers have some creative control over how the content is ultimately displayed. The most important piece is the fact that publishers will get data and insights from the content that they surface directly on Facebook. They are also permitted to include 3rd party analytics services such as Quantcast.
On the surface these are great terms. But considering Facebook’s ad revenue and the fact that they already know everything about their users, they aren’t giving up much. And the relationship between the platform and its publishers could/will certainly get wierd down the road.
4. The relationship status is complicated
The relationship between large publishers and Facebook will continue to evolve, but some news publishers are weary. The current sentiment among many journalists seems to be “this is gonna end badly for us.” Facebook is already the preferred web browser for many. The news we see is the news that shows up on our newsfeed. So, if Facebook is our go to destination, the news we get is the news Zuckerberg and Chris Cox, Facebook’s head of Product, think we should care about. Soon though we won’t even have to click through to the actual news sites. Facebook being the middle man for consumers in their news is point of concern.
Journalists also fear corporate censorship – i.e., “What will happen when I want to publish a 10,000 word thinkpiece on how evil Facebook is and to maxmize the article’s reach I want to publish it via Facebook’s Instant Articles? Is Zuck gonna let that through?” But traditional print publications have yet to fully figure out their digital audiences and Facebook has the audience — so now we’re here.
The more successful Instant Articles are, the more publishers will invest in it and the more reliable they will be on Facebook. And that reliance becomes scary. Remember when we thought that The Washington Post Social Reader was the future of content? The app scaled to millions of users quickly and then Facebook dropped it…and we ain’t heard from Social Reader since. Remember all of those FarmVille requests you used to get? When Facebook decided that platform games weren’t part of their strategy moving forward, Zynga’s business shrunk almost over night.
5. Brands can participate, but they’ll need to step their content games up
What does this mean for brands? Instant Articles give the content a centerstage on our newsfeeds. This kind of content will be even more scrutinized. If we arrive on an Instant Article only to feel like we’re getting a lame advertisement as opposed to a great story it’s going to leave a bad taste in our mouths.
With Facebook allowing sponsored content, smart brands will work directly with publishers to use the high impact imagery and audio integration to create sponsored content that entertains. The possibilities seem endless for brands, especially those in the automotive, fashion, tech industries.
The early Instant Articles content shows the potential for truly immersive and engaging mobile content. The challenge for brands will be to think about how they can use this new set of tools to tell amazing mobile stories.
Mike Johnson is The Marketing Arm’s senior director, Digital Strategy. You can follow “MJ” on Twitter at @mjamrst.