With over 1.4 billion active users, Facebook receives more than a fair share of the Internet's attention. Daily visits likely outpace the combined efforts of mainstream media's outlets for news, such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, and an entire network of Conde Nast publications. Indeed, The Wall Street Journal reported that it derives 60 percent of its referral traffic from Facebook.
Facebook's recent rollout of Instant Articles presents an opportunity for publishers to join hands with the social media giant vis-a-vis interactive articles hosted on Facebook itself. Yet it also points to the threat that Facebook poses to publishers who are now competing with social media's role as a one-stop shop for news.
How Publishers Can Use Instant Articles to Their Advantage
So far, Facebook has nine publishers participating in the testing period for Instant Articles. These include The New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC News, The Atlantic, The Guardian, the BBC, Spiegel and Bild. At this moment, BuzzFeed and NBC News are the only two who are embracing Facebook's Instant offerings in full. Others, such as the Times, are approaching the new platform more cautiously by handpicking tool they want to adopt.
Instant Articles should be attractive to publishers because it will allow them to expose their articles to a wider audience on Facebook and still be able to claim traffic from the site, as well as advertising revenue. Plus Facebook has offered to supply data about readers who click on the articles to publishers.
In general, Instant Articles will be an appealing place to receive news. User experience will be improved as users are able to scroll through their News Feed, click on an article of interest, and be able to read it in its entirety on the site without having to jump back to where they were in the feed or open new tabs. Furthermore, with Facebook's commitment to quicker loading times, users will no longer have to deal with some of the earlier hitches of hosted articles that took as long as eight seconds to load on mobile phones.
Because of Facebook's ability to host different kinds of media, this will open the door for publishers to take new creative approaches to their articles, including streaming videos that autoplay when the user scrolls past, embedded audio files, and the opportunity for large, lush photographs to appear alongside the text.
During the test phase, The New York Times released a longform story on Lais Souza, a Brazilian gymnast training for the Olympics, complete with auto-streaming videos of her regimen. Buzzfeed, masters of brevity, used a series of automatic GIFs and native video to animate a piece titled "13 Steps to Instantly Improve Your Day."
For publishers, it will be a test to see if longform can translate to a social media platform that could be credited with shortening attention spans with its influx of content. And, there are doubts that despite Facebook's efforts to minimize loss of ad revenue and traffic, there will be some sacrifices no matter what if the pull toward reading news directly on Facebook is strong. With accusations that Facebook is "eating the media," the consequences of having many of our news outlets in one space is yet to be seen, and raises interesting questions about this moment of sink or swim that publishers find themselves in as the conversation on social grows larger than the conversation itself.