Last May, Facebook launched their Instant Articles program, which allowed select publishers like Buzzfeed, New York Times and NBC News to host their content directly on the social media giant’s site, rather than posting links to their content that direct Facebookers to read it over on the publisher’s actual website. Starting April 12, Instant Articles will be a feature available to all publishers with a website or Facebook page.
The main draw of Instant Articles is Facebook’s promise that the program significantly speeds up loading times for mobile users. Bypassing the typical links that direct users away from Facebook and to the actual content, and instead hosting the actual content on Facebook itself, cuts down on lengthy and annoying load times when being redirected from Facebook to another website. Noting that these turtle-paced loading times were hindering mobile users from consuming the news on their phones, Facebook’s expansion of the Instant Articles program is set to rectify this nuisance for all publishers, particularly for audiences where low connectivity is a prevailing occurrence.
Opening the floodgates of the Instant Articles program is a total coup for Facebook; not only will this greatly expand the type and quantity of content that’s hosted on the site, but by retaining users with Facebook hosted content from outside publishers rather than directing them elsewhere, the average user will theoretically be spending more time on Facebook, making the social network site even more alluring for advertisers.
It’s not all bad for publishers too, especially those that have struggled with declining ad revenue as more people shift to browsing and consuming news through mobile devices. Facebook has a strong foundation in the mobile ad revenue arena and is offering publishers quite the incentive to directly host their content to its site. Publishers that sell ads with their content keep every penny of that money earned; meanwhile, if Facebook sells the ads, the publisher walks away with a hefty 70 percent of the revenue. With Facebook lightening the restrictions on the types of ads that can be published, some publishers who directly host content to Facebook note they generate as much revenue there as they do on their own mobile sites on a page-per-view basis.
Still, there’s a catch-22 involved for publishers: they’re ultimately beholden to any changes Facebook makes to their algorithm or site that impacts what appears in people’s newsfeeds. Complaints have already been lodged at Facebook by businesses and marketers utilizing pages to promote their content on the site after Facebook retooled its algorithm so that not all user-generated content appears in people’s feeds. If Facebook can govern the amount of people who see a given piece of content, that would directly infringe upon a publisher’s use of Instant Articles to try to expand their audience and create more ad revenue. As publishers continue to look for new ways to earn money as everything goes digital, the prospect of hosting all content on an outside site could end up being a saving grace or a slippery slope.