Facebook Introduces Authorship to Help Readers Follow Content Creators
In what may be seen as another effort to boost their new Instant Articles function, Facebook has announced the introduction of authorship on Facebook. Facebook's Author Tag, announced in an official blog post this week, will enable publishers to "make it easy for Facebook readers to start following the author of an article they just read an enjoyed".
In this example, you can see that the author of this post, Melissa Korn, now has a by-line immediately beneath the snippet, as well as a separate option to see more content by Melissa Korn or follow her to receive updates about her future content.
Sounds familiar, right? The basic idea id somewhat like Google's recently retired Authorship mark-up, which was implemented to highlight relevant content in Google search results. But it didn't quite work out as planned, with Google shutting the project down because it was not returning enough value relative to the resources required to process the back-end data. So, if that's the case, why is Facebook doing it?
Facebook for the Win
Facebook is currently on a mission to win the internet. By 'win', I mean get as many people staying on Facebook all the time - always within Facebook's walls, always viewing Facebook content. Obviously, this makes logical sense, but the push towards getting publishers to post content direct to Facebook highlights that The Social Network is more proactively seeking to keep audiences with them, rather than have them click-off to other sites. Such is the risk of their new Instant Articles offering - while it makes sense to publish direct to Facebook and have them assist you with reach, you're also supplanting your own website for the sake of Facebook's, and thus, building reliance on rented land. And if the landlord decides to raise the rent, your options for moving on might be significantly less appealing.
In an effort to maximize attention and get that 'win', Facebook needs to make Instant Articles an irresistible proposition - no one's going to give up their own website, a place they can monetize and control if they're not getting anything significant in return. And while Facebook is the number one driver of referral traffic on the web, it still needs to ensure that those who do publish on Facebook see that they will get results better than they could get by sticking with their current publishing process.
They moved to boost the reach of Instant Articles last week, with the introduction of a new measurement in the News Feed algorithm - time spent reading. That variable will undoubtedly benefit Instant Articles content, as it will be able to take into account the amount of time each reader takes to go through an article, then use that as an indicator of interest, in order to show them more Instant Articles content, and thus, increase the product's reach. The introduction of Author Tags could be another move aimed at boosting the benefits of instant Articles - the ability to follow your favorite author and get notifications of their content on Facebook will act as more of a draw to keep feeding users more directly posted content. You might not want all of a certain publication, but you really like the way a certain author writes - now Facebook has a way to give you that content.
Of course, this addition also helps bloggers outside of those who post via Instant Articles - well-known social media identity Mike Allton has written a great summary of the potential benefits of this addition for bloggers with screenshots of his experiments with the feature.
Allton's view is that this addition will provide a significant boost for bloggers on the platform by helping them build audience. While the announcement puts an emphasis squarely on 'journalists', Allton notes that, in essence, bloggers are journalists in this context, and they'll be able to utilize this feature the same way. It'll be interesting to see how this feature is implemented by creators of all kinds, and whether it does have a positive impact on building followings and reputation online.
How to Implement Author Tags
Setting up Facebook Author tags is (thankfully) easier than it was to link your Google Authorship credentials to content. The Author Tag uses the existing meta tag 'article:author', where you would replace 'author' with your Facebook profile URL (Mike Allton has a great explanation of how this works on his site). Once set up, you'll have your by-line highlighted and 'Follow' or 'Like' buttons enabled to ensure users get updates whenever you publish new content.
The Author Tag is an interesting addition, and it'll be interesting to see how it's utilized in coming months.
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