When Facebook announced its Instant Articles product, not everyone was elated by the social media platform's move - especially advertisers.
Instant Articles allows organizations to publish content directly to Facebook. The company provides publishers with tools to create interactive features, which load faster and work more seamlessly than previous options for sharing content on the network. Best of all, Facebook allows publishers to place and control ads on that content, as well as track readership.
Companies that sell and manage the ads themselves retain 100% of the revenue. Those that enlist Facebook for those tasks earn 70%, which The Wall Street Journal suggests could be quite a lucrative deal for brands.
But because organizations are publishing directly through Facebook, there are fewer reasons for users to click away from their News Feeds and move to other sites or apps. And that means those publishers could see fewer inbound viewers on their websites.
While the ad revenue helps publishers - and the incentives to stay on the site clearly benefit Facebook - it's easy to see why this is an issue for advertisers.
The Not-So-Silver Lining
HubSpot rightly points out that advertisers and marketers strive to create predictable revenue and growth, a job that Instant Articles makes more difficult. Because the platform emphasizes individual stories, not brand connections, users have fewer reasons to engage publishers beyond Facebook. They get to enjoy a faster, more interactive reading experience directly in the app, so why would they leave it?
There's less room for organic exploration with this model. And a lack of organic exploration means decreased ad revenue as a whole. Facebook effectively now controls consumer behavior, steering users back to Facebook and away from other articles, ads, and information.
Besides losing the incremental revenue naturally generated by users searching a website, brands will have to share and link their websites all within the Facebook universe. No longer will there be other outbound or inbound links, which means marketers run the risk of trading Facebook traffic for decreased search traffic overall.
Advertisers work hard to drive conversions and educate potential consumers. By utilizing Instant Articles, they'll relinquish control of their audiences to Facebook.
Despite traffic concerns, Instant Articles has already attracted high-level publishers, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic. The Atlantic, which was also among Facebook's Instant Articles launch partners, said that despite its initial wariness, it was confident in the new platform. Bob Cohn, The Atlantic's president and COO, told TechCrunch that he expected Instant Articles to help the media outlet "reach a bigger audience" and build its business through ads.
Robyn Morris, Facebook's product design manager, told the Society for News Design that the company wants to create an engaging, flexible experience for readers and publishers. By empowering media outlets to track engagement, they can learn "why one story might resonate more than another."
Still, critics decry Facebook's new role as gatekeeper of the web. Although articles published through Instant Articles won't factor more favorably in the News Feed algorithm, those articles could rise higher in the ranks if people like and interact more with them than other content, according to TechCrunch.
Media outlets might feel they have to use Instant Articles to stay competitive, giving more power to Facebook as a content delivery platform.
The Future of Facebook for Advertisers
Despite the buzz, some skeptics believe Instant Articles is the Y2K of publishing - meaning it's not as big a disrupter as people think. And because there are only nine major publishers using Instant Articles at the moment, the platform hasn't changed advertisers' jobs much yet.
But it's important that they be prepared. Not only will Facebook's influence likely grow, but Instant Articles may also prove to be a powerful vehicle for branded content. Yes, native ads will make it more challenging for advertisers to drive traffic to brands' sites and apps. However, with a more engaged Facebook audience, they can place high-level sponsored content and ads with reputable outlets. They can also create complementary content that runs on other platforms.
If Instant Articles becomes the massively influential publishing vehicle Facebook wants it to be, the shape and focus of marketing campaigns may change - but the end goal will remain the same.
Advertisers are constantly adapting to changing technologies and customer preferences, so they're already prepared to tackle this new challenge. By assessing the pitfalls of Instant Articles early on, they can devise creative solutions for making Facebook's latest move a useful and integral part of their strategies.