For years marketers from all over the web have turned to Facebook Ads to build their fans and grow their business. But the social media giant has a new offering that confirms the old adage: content is king. Facebook Instant Articles launched in May 2015 with less than a dozen publishers, including The New York Times and BuzzFeed. In April 2016, Facebook opened Instant Articles to all publishers. Today, whether you’re NBC News or a microscopic start-up agency, you can create content and promote your articles in front of Facebook’s 1.8 billion active users.

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How do you go about setting up Facebook Instant Articles? We’ll tackle that in a bit. First, let’s start at the beginning and explore why Facebook made the change.

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What Are Facebook Instant Articles?

According to Facebook’s website, Instant Articles are “a new way for publishers to create fast, interactive stories on Facebook.” Speed really is the name of the game here, with load times averaging as much as 10 times faster than other mobile pages. In other words, Instant Articles truly DO load instantly.

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Before interacting with Instant Articles, users who selected an article from their news feed were redirected to their mobile browser to view the content. This elongated process resulted in a higher bounce rate, and greatly limited the amount of articles a user would consume in a given session. Instant Articles solves the “engagement” problem by increasing the ease of content consumption by keep you and I on their platform.

Although these articles are hosted through Facebook, each publisher is able to customize their content by adding logos, images, videos and other visual media. When it comes to branding, this creates a similar aesthetic to visiting the publisher’s actual website. In case you’re confused, you’ll know you’re viewing an Instant Article if you see a tiny lightning bolt in the upper right corner of your newsfeed.

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After viewing an article, you can always press the back button to return to your news feed. Seems simple enough, right? Well, it is! So, I know what you’re probably thinking: What’s the difference between an Instant Article and a standard desktop article? Let’s compare the two below.

Here is a The Washington Post article as viewed in a desktop browser:

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And here is the same article as an Instant Article:

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As you can see, the desktop version is more detailed, presenting readers with options for sharing the article across social media as well as related articles and an email opt-in offer. On the other hand, the Instant Article is simply sharing the article, nothing more and nothing less. Some may argue that there are less distractions on Instant Articles, making the reading experience more streamlined.

We will discuss the full range of advantages and disadvantages of Instant Articles in a bit. But first, let’s explain why the social media giant decided to make this change.

Why Did Facebook Make The Change?

A few years ago Facebook recognized that redirecting users to third party mobile sites was becoming antiquated and ineffective. They reasoned it would be a better user experience if Facebook hosted news content on their servers, but publishers feared that displaying content natively in Facebook would sacrifice their branding and revenue streams on their website.

Facebook struck a deal with publishers in 2015, guaranteeing them the ability to maintain their branding, collect monetary compensation, and enable Google Analytics tracking. For Facebook, this deal made too much sense. It kept users active on their platform while also keeping third party publishers happy. Maybe most importantly, it provided another source of revenue for Facebook as the share advertising dollars posted in and around each article. Instant Articles effectively solve the problem of how to keep users ON Facebook while showing them non-Facebook content.

From May 2015 to April 2016, Facebook Instant Articles were only available to nine major American and British publishers. But at the 2016 F8 conference, Facebook announced that Instant Articles would be available to all publishers.

Why Are Instant Articles Important For Marketers and Publishers?

As Facebook continues to establish itself as a massive content arbiter, brands are forced to make the platform a top priority for social currency. But from a value standpoint, the consensus around Facebook Instant Articles is rather mixed. Because of this, marketers are approaching it with cautious optimism.

Here’s what we DO know. Instant Articles WILL increase the amount of time users engage with a piece of content, as is evidenced in the correlation between faster load times and conversion rate. The question is, will Facebook users consume more than a single piece of your content? Publishers are fearful that users will remain on Facebook scrolling through the content of many publishers, rather than heading to a specific publisher’s site and becoming a loyal subscriber.

While writers and content creators can at least get users interacting with their “product” (articles) on Facebook, marketers have a greater challenge. How did we incentive users to leave Facebook and enter our sales funnel? With a smaller amount of users reaching mobile sites, it can be harder to drive credible leads and nurture prospects into future customers.

Marketers shouldn’t be deterred though. As we shared earlier, Facebook boasts 1.8 billion active users so there’s no shortage of traffic. Plus, Facebook Instant Articles includes a sales and revenue model of its own – advertising.

Monetization Options

As stated on the Facebook for Developer’s website, there are three ways to monetize Instant Articles.

  • Direct-Sold – Marketers can serve video, animation, and banner ads that have been sold directly to them, right into their Instant Articles. The good news here is publishers keep 100% of their revenue and maintains full and direct control over their relationship with lucrative advertisers.

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  • Audience Network – One of Facebook’s most exhaustive ad resources gives you access to more than 3 million advertisers. This is especially convenient for smaller publishers who lack the resources to seek out a high volume of direct-sold ads. If you already have Audience Network enabled, you will still have to create a new Audience Network app dedicated for use with Instant Articles. It uses advanced targeting to show the right display ads to the right your reader. Since October 2016, publishers using Facebook Audience Network can incorporate video and carousel ads as well.

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  • Branded Content – Instant Articles also come with a built-in toolkit to help marketers produce branded content. This is perhaps the best advertising method for marketers who aren’t looking to produce editorial pieces, but rather generate revenue through promoting sponsored content. Facebook’s editor allows marketers to customize bylines, create different style templates (including logos, typeface, and color schemes), and add a kicker above the headline to highlight the branded nature of the piece.

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If you’re wondering (and I know you are), for ads sold by Facebook the publisher gets to keep 70% of the revenue. This was a move aimed at drawing in many publishers looking to maximize their ROI from Instant Articles.

Examples of Big Brands Testing And Succeeding

Now that we’re almost two full years into Facebook Instant Articles, the results are coming in. Here are some examples from large brands who have tested it, and recorded successes.

  • Vox

 

The rapidly growing digital media publisher has been tinkering with Instant Articles for both its visual and written content—and their efforts have been rewarded according to one Facebook Product Manager.

“Vox Media has seen success on the mobile web with its proprietary Athena ad unit. With this update, Vox Media will bring the Athena unit to Instant Articles across its editorial brands, including Vox.com and The Verge.”

Support for custom ad units came in the October 2016 update, along with the ability to use multiple formats up to an aspect ratio of 2-to-3.

  • The Atlantic

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One of the original nine publishers to partner with Instant Articles was The Atlantic. Since then they have reportedly pushed 98% of new content to Facebook. Although initial success was slow to materialize, the brand remains optimistic in light of Facebook’s move to allow publishers to run video ads, thereby allowing more ad impressions per article.

The Atlantic, and other publishers, are also hopeful that Facebook will soon extend native advertising capabilities to all ads within Instant Articles—right now they are only allowed through a marketer’s direct sold campaigns.

  • Local News Publishers

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One of the most notable success stories comes from an entire sector, rather than a single publication. Local news is reaping the benefit of a wider reach and a more accessible audience through Instant Articles. Facebook’s ability to encourage users to share valuable content has enabled several publications to increase their overall engagement like never before.

An example discussed on Facebook’s website is Billy Penn. The young Philadelphia news site took The Atlantic’s all-in approach on Instant Articles, and have witnessed a 610% boost in traffic since March 2016! Even larger local news outlets such as KVUE in Austin, Texas, or 9News in Denver, Colorado have seen certain broadcasts hit viral proportions (100M+ views).

  • Intel

The timeless PC giant has taken quite a liking to Instant Articles, via its digital tech-focused publication, iQ. Founded in 2012, iQ was designed to alter the perception of Intel from strictly a computer maker into more of a 21st century cloud-based tech leader. After gaining a significant Facebook following, Intel began featuring iQ’s content in the form of Instant Articles. Positive results are being seen in the user experience, says Becky Brown—VP of digital marketing and media for Intel:

“The whole experience is better for users in general, but we’re taking it a little slow so we don’t overextend ourselves.”

Intel is one of many marketers who intend to blur the line between marketing and publishing when it comes to using Facebook Instant Articles to increase brand awareness.

How To Get Your Brand Started

Any marketer or publisher can sign up for Facebook Instant Articles in a simple 3-step process:

  • Step 1: Sign-Up for Instant Articles

Log in to your Facebook account and select the Facebook Page you’d like to enable for Instant Articles.

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You’ll have access to Publishing Tools for your Instant Articles right away. Simply go to your Facebook Page and find it in the left navigation bar.

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  • Step 2: Develop and Submit Articles

Once you’ve set your Instant Articles configuration, the next step is to import the articles themselves. For WordPress users there are numerous plugins that will streamline the import process for you, including Instant Articles for WP. The only stipulation here is that you have at least 10 articles on your site.

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If your content management system isn’t WordPress, you’ll have to import articles manually with the Instant Articles API or through an RSS feed. The latter approach requires a bit more technical expertise, however it’s far from difficult to set up.

Once you’re articles are in, you’ll want to check that they render properly by using Facebook’s Pages Manager app.

When you’ve deemed your content ready for publication, submit it to the Instant Articles team for review. From the looks of it, this step is largely to ensure your article follows Facebook’s content and advertising policies.

  • Step 3: Publish!

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Turn on your auto-publishing setting for RSS feeds to ensure that all articles load as Instant Articles, then fire your articles off into the Instant Articles stratosphere! This is the simplest step as far as action, but it leads us to the most important step in the process…

  • Step 4: Analyze Traffic and Engagement

Instant Articles allow you to embed any third party analytics software, including Google Analytics, with your published content. You’ll simply insert an HTML or JavaScript tracking tag (<iframe>) within the <body> of your Instant Article. Page views recorded by JavaScript trackers will show up as direct traffic unless otherwise specified.

Why is this the most important step? As we’ve seen with some of the biggest brands in the world, continuous monitoring and testing of content is how we will make the most of Instant Articles. I’d suggest The Atlantic’s model—publish as much content as you can, but have an optimizer’s mindset. Study, and constantly rework to improve.

Conclusion

Though Instant Articles are still rather young, marketers and publishers alike are noticing their potential for brand awareness and monetization. While some may argue it’s a better platform for publishers than it is for marketers, it’s clear that Facebook is making positive strides in making it a viable space for branded content. Since the signup process is so straightforward and simple, there’s no reason not to give Instant Articles some serious attention for your brand.