What Facebook Instant Articles Could Mean for Content Marketers

Editor’s Note: This piece, published in May 2015, has been updated for accuracy in April 2017.

When I want to read about my home team, the Boston Red Sox, I go to ESPN Boston’s website. Some of the other BNers with ties to Boston like to go Barstool Sports. These two sites have very different aesthetics. The core of the content, Boston sports coverage, is the same, but the expectations they’ve set with their users are a big part of what drives loyalty and preference for each publication.

Instant Articles, a new mobile-optimized content type exclusive to Facebook, could bring this kind of editorial and stylistic distinction into focus for content marketers because Instant Articles let publishers bring their brands into the News Feed in new ways.

Now open to all publishers (all you need is a Facebook Page, logo, and at least five published articles), what might this future look like? Well, it includes call-to-actions, which Facebook made available on Instant Articles earlier this month. Here’s what else:

Relevance Could Be Redefined

Typically, when we think of about the notion of digital relevance—of online experiences feeling natural, applicable and useful—we begin by thinking about personal context. Is this content right for my audience? Is this real estate article relevant to the right stage in the home-buying journey? Does it speak to the mindsets and known interests of the customers I’ve already spoken with?

This user-centric approach to content, whether it’s a blog post created for $20 or an ad campaign with a $20 million budget, is 9/10 of the thinking that’s required for any brand to find relevance.

But there’s more to relevance than just the substance of the content. Sure, you have to give your audiences what they want, but the last 1/10 of the process is more conversational than that. It’s about setting expectations and then giving users what they’ve been taught to expect. It’s respiration.

This is what Facebook is doing by launching Instant Articles, a new medium available to all publishers, which lets these content creators deliver their branded long-form written stories to the News Feed using Facebook as the platform for that content.

In the Instant Articles example above, National Geographic brings its signature yellow frame into the Feed, and the image behind the text is also an auto-playing video, showcasing the rich media inside the Instant Article. After clicking, users get the look and feel of a National Geographic article, even though the content is hosted on Facebook. Fonts, colors and other elements of the page that load after the click feel like National Geographic.

Expectations About Quality Could Be Reset

Instant Articles is already letting publishers bring the brand experience of their articles into Facebook’s mobile News Feed. Reader expectations about quality—beginning with page load time—are being reset.

Perhaps the biggest value to users and publishers is in the name of the feature itself: Instant Articles load very quickly. This will reduce user frustration, both with Facebook and with the publishers whose long-form, rich-media-enabled content takes too long to appear after being clicked. According to Facebook, Instant Articles can load up to 10 times faster than standard mobile web articles.

Instant Articles gives publishers a chance to create new expectations about what great content experiences (not just great content) look and feel like, allowing for videos embedded in the articles to autoplay, and for photos and maps to be explored more interactively. This could create pressure for content marketers, in the long run. If Instant Articles look better, open faster and feel more “produced,” brand publications and the content marketers creating them may find themselves racing to keep up.

Monetization Strategies Could Be Reconsidered

Rather than expecting publishers to bring their content to Facebook for free, Facebook is offering three monetization options.

1. Direct-Sell Ad: Use your existing ad server implementation to deliver direct-sold campaigns into Instant Articles, which support a handful of ad types including video, animations, and custom or premium ad sizes. Facebook also supports dynamic re-sizing of ads based on the response from your ad server.

2. Ad Networks: Using the Audience Network, you can leverage the same native ad formats and people-based targeting that makes Audience Network so powerful. You can even enable Automatic Ads Placement to ensure your Instant Articles complies with guidelines and includes new ad placement learnings to maximize value.

3. Branded Content Business: If you have a branded content business, e.g., features a third-party product, brand or sponsor, you can extend that to Instant Articles.

No matter which monetization strategy they choose, publishers will still get all the traffic attribution and analytics they need, thanks to an integration with ComScore.

This new FAN-powered ad opportunity could pose an interesting opportunity for content marketers who are already witnessing a bigger and bigger percentage of their total traffic coming from Facebook. While organic search is still at the core of many blog-centric content marketing strategies, if Facebook ad revenues began to trickle in, brand publishers and content marketers might be able to re-invest that money into their content—or even into promoting that content more on Facebook.

There’s more noise than ever today: in the world, on the internet, and in the Facebook News Feed. Instant Articles will help publishers break through the noise, re-define expectations and deliver moments of content excellence that are contextual. This will naturally make content more relevant.

How well Instant Articles is adopted, and more importantly, how much Facebook’s users like it, will determine whether Instant Articles ever lands in the hands of content marketers. Regardless, it seems likely that some derivative of it will impact brand publishers like you and me down the line. This is all part of a long continuum where content continues to improve and brands find more opportunity to build powerful and influential publications.

I remember logging into the internet in the early 1990s when it was still just beginning. Every web page felt the same. Today, the web and the social web, in particular, are so much more personal and contextual than we ever could have imagined back then, reflecting both us as individuals and our businesses as brands. Notions of content ownership have continued to shift, too. Are “Instant Articles” the future of relevance? Perhaps not, but relevance is certainly the key to the future, whatever it looks like.

Learn more from Brand Networks Founder and Chairman Jamie Tedford
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