Facebook's Instant Articles is something of a dilemma for publishers.
On one hand, it makes perfect sense - you upload your content direct to Facebook which enables the system to load your material faster, providing a better, more responsive, reader experience. Instant Articles, according to Facebook, are read 20% more than normal posts, are shared 30% more often, while they also provide a range of additional presentation options and tools, all native to Facebook (including 360 photo and video).
But then again, you have to upload your content to Facebook, as opposed to bringing readers back to your own site. This means Facebook controls the traffic and the data - all the performance measures are in the hands of The Social Network. And aside from recent questions about their metrics, building a reliance on Facebook comes with inherent risk. Every algorithm update has the potential to reduce not only your reach, but by extension, your revenue as well.
Facebook's well aware of these concerns, which is why they've been working with journalists, as part of The Facebook Journalism Project, to understand their hesitations and extend the business value of Instant Articles.
The latest result of those discussions is the addition of new call to action units within Instant Articles which will provide another way for publishers to establish direct connections with readers, thus reducing their reliance on Facebook alone.
The first option is an e-mail call-to-action unit, which will enable publishers to more easily log reader email addresses for direct connection.
The option ensures publishers have a way to maintain their own audience - as opposed to only helping build Facebook's - and provides them with another opportunity to monetize their Instant Articles viewers.
The second CTA option is a Facebook Page Like button, which means readers will be eligible to receive updates and posts from the publisher's Page.
Facebook says they've seen good response with the new CTA options thus far - Slate, which participated in beta test, says that the e-mail sign-up call-to-action unit has accounted for 41% of their total email newsletter list growth over the past two months, while Huffington Post says the unit generated 29% of their Morning Email signups during the test.
In addition, Facebook says they're also working on two new Call-to-Action units for Instant Articles, including a 'Free Trial' CTA which will enable readers to sign up for a free trial of the publisher's digital subscription, and a mobile app install CTA to help drive adoption of publisher mobile apps.
Facebook's also, reportedly, working on a Snapchat Discover-like unit which would showcase news stories, listicles, videos and other content submitted by handpicked media partners - though that unit, according to initial reports, was originally called 'Collections', a title which Facebook has now re-purposed for their new multi-image ad offering. Facebook's latest effort on expanded discovery is a new, alternate News Feed of content from Pages you haven't Liked, but you may be interested in, which could also become a vehicle for Instant Articles content, if successful.
The expanded options are a step in the right direction for Instant Articles, giving publishers a way to maintain their direct audience connection while using the option, which, as the above stats show, can deliver a better reader experience than referring users back to your own site. It's not conventionally how online publishers have operated, so hesitation will remain, but the improved performance available through Instant Articles, and through Google AMP, could eventually raise reader expectations, meaning all publishers, and even smaller bloggers, will need to weigh up their options.