Last week, Facebook took a major leap into the world of publishing, partnering with BuzzFeed, The New York Times, National Geographic and six other publications. Facebook is transforming (at least in small part) from a social directory for in-depth articles into a destination for them. All the new “Instant Articles” these publishers post on Facebook will be hosted natively in the Facebook mobile app. This end-to-end control for Facebook promises a great experience for users.
Publishers seem to be getting everything they want from it, too. Where Facebook was once just a way for them to sample content to audiences, it's now a place to host, track, format, monetize and deliver it – at least for these early partners.
The big news for publishers is that Instant Articles will let them bring the look, feel and rich media associated with their feature articles into Facebook mobile. Publishers will control their brand experiences – down to their colors and fonts – in the native Facebook experience in an eye-catching and powerful way.
It seems users and publishers are poised to win big. But what does this mean for the advertising community? Here’s a close look:
Better Facebook ad targeting. Facebook already knows what your audiences are interested in, down to the individual. But just how interested they are is another question. With Facebook hosting this content itself, the company will presumably gain insight into how far users scroll, how much time they spend with the content, and how much they engage with videos and other rich media on these Instant Articles. In time, I’d bet that all of this after-the-News-Feed info will be put to work to improve Facebook’s objective-based ad targeting.
Better off-Facebook ad delivery. Facebook’s quest to become the go-to advertiser around the open Web is no secret. Hence Atlas and the Facebook Audience Network (FAN), both of which enable marketers to use Facebook’s ultra-powerful people-based marketing to target ads outside of Facebook. While hosting this Instant Articles content and giving publishers the option to run FAN ads inside Instant Articles (Facebook keeps 30% of ad revenue and passes the other 70% to the publisher), Facebook will be able to control the experience and learn to optimize ads inside articles as never before.
More pressure to build great content. If you’re promoting your brand’s blog posts or other long-form content on Facebook, then you already know how important it is to build great content. If broadened to include brand publishers, Instant Articles will be a tool content marketers covet. If your brand content is well written, but lacking in visual luster, your brand content may get left in the dust. If your content doesn’t load quickly, it most certainly will.
More analytical complexity. One of Instant Articles’ primary benefits for publishers is that comScore traffic to Instant Article pages will still be counted in publishers’ site traffic reports. What’s more, Facebook is supporting additional internal analytics tools for publishers. But if Instant Articles are made available to any brand with a blog, then syncing these analytics and making sure you truly understand the impact of your Instant Articles efforts on your overall digital marketing plan will create new data issues.
If Instant Articles take off, we’ll likely see Facebook take a full plunge into publishing, with advertisers jumping in with them.