The social networking giant rolled out Instant Articles for every content producer last month. Some have been quick to point out Facebook’s blatant attempt to “lock in” publishers and brands; while others see this as a ripe opportunity. We need to consider what it means for all affected parties.
Facebook and its natural competitors
Google launched its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) platform shortly after Instant Articles. The content on AMP is designed to load faster on Twitter - Facebook’s rival. Apparently, publishers have been swayed by both Google and Facebook. Sites such as the Washington Post and BuzzFeed have adopted the 2 platforms.
Recently, LinkedIn is rumoured to join the race soon. The social networking platform for professionals might develop something similar to Instant Articles, as content publishers are also valuable in its ecosystem.
For media companies, “Facebook is a long-term gain for publishers that provide long-term value.” To be eligible for Instant Articles, publishers have to pass stringent user experience requirements - not only from a technical standpoint, but also in terms of content quality.
In exchange, Instant Articles load fast and provide a more seamless mobile experience as readers browse from one article to the next.
Companies who act as a platform for user-generated content such as Medium seem to share the same goal as Facebook. Hence, we can see why they would want to cooperate rather than fight with the giant. WordPress has also followed suit by allowing users to write once, publish anywhere.
Then comes the question of monetisation –publishers’ bread and butter. At the moment, with Facebook offering two options – keep all or just 70% of ad revenue in exchange for access to Facebook's Audience Network. Publishers who endorse the second option tend to do so because they see more and more traffic from Facebook.
An opponent passionately stated: “Instant Articles detract instead of enable .” This is the claim from the marketing company who fuelled the popularity of inbound marketing – HubSpot. Quite rightly, the goal of marketers is different from that of publishers: they buy ads, not sell them. As monetisation is off the table, what we’re looking at is conversion.
Fending off negative reactions from marketers, Facebook has developed more interactive elements such as customised Call-to-actions, email sign-up widget etc. This essentially allows brands to do the same job they do on their website or blog. Furthermore, Facebook has thrown in analytics tools, thanks to its partnership with companies like Adobe, Chartbeat and comScore.
It seems like a sweet deal for marketers. But many experts have pointed out the possibility of Instant Articles becoming a “freepremium” product. By that point, content producers/promoters as well as readers may have been too dependent on the platform to stop using it.
Is the battle over or only just started?
After all, Facebook is just one channel (although a big one). The good news for those uncomfortable with Facebook’s influence is: with the pace of technology change, no one can be a monopoly for too long. So keep creating content the audience loves first, then worry about which channel for distribution second.