Get ready: You’ll soon be reading The Content Strategist directly on your Facebook mobile app.
Today, Facebook announced that it will be opening its Instant Articles feature to all publishers on April 12. From what we can tell, that means brands, individuals, and even the smallest publishers can get in the action.
(We reached out to Facebook for confirmation that brands can use Instant Articles and sell ads against them. We’ll update when we receive a response.)1
Instant Articles launched less than a year ago to a cavalcade of hot takes lamenting Facebook’s frightening power over the digital media industry (including from yours truly). Since then, Facebook has relaxed rules that were bottlenecking publishers’ ability to generate revenue, expanding Instant Articles access from a select group of nine publishers to hundreds2, and the media industry hasn’t collapsed. In turn, the anxiety has decreased considerably.
Even Gawker founder Nick Denton has said that Facebook’s walls are preferable to the “mess of ad tech”—a complete change of heart from his initial position that Facebook was forcing publishers “into a position of ‘abject surrender.'”
Plenty of the concerns still remain. How much will this affect publishers’ abilities to collect important data about their audience? Will Facebook censor risqué publishers like Playboy? Will Facebook’s algorithm pick winners and losers based on clickability rather than quality? What happens to creative formats like Vox’s card stacks? The potential reach of Facebook’s 1.55 billion user base will nonetheless compel most publishers to find a solution.
For brands, the question of whether to join Instant Articles is considerably easier to answer: Almost all of them should be prepared to publish come April. Once users are accustomed to Instant Article’s load time, they likely won’t want to visit external links. Facebook’s algorithm will also likely prioritize Instant Articles. That’s exactly what happened when Facebook muscled in its native video player onto the network, which has become a favorite of brands and publishers over the past two years.
Brands hoping to grow their content reach and brand awareness will love publishing directly on Facebook, especially considering the reach of Facebook’s incredibly powerful ad platform. Those more concerned with on-site conversion will have a trickier time, but creative marketers will find ways to drive Instant Article readers to landing pages and product pages, and, ultimately, through the sales funnel. Running brand ads alongside brand content on Instant Articles, for instance, could be an incredibly effective solution.
Put simply, there are few downsides and a lot of upsides to experimenting with Instant Articles. The floodgates are opening, and both brands and publishers should be ready to ride the wave.
UPDATE, 2/18: A Facebook spokesperson said: “In April, Instant Articles will be open to any publishers that wish to join, but it is primarily designed for news publishers. While other types of publishers will have the option to create Instant Articles, in many cases there are other formats on Facebook that will better serve their needs.”
UPDATE, 3/11: According to a report from MarketingLand, Facebook is partnering with mobile publishing platform Steller to make it easier for brands to publish Instant Articles with custom CTAs. Per MarketingLand:
“Other examples of interactive widgets Steller is developing for Instant Articles include a ‘call now’ button that could be used by real estate agents, as one example, and a ‘reserve now’ buttons for hotel chains. However, those interactive tools are still in development, Denton said. So is the ability for brands to use custom themes in their Steller-produced Instant Articles, such as using a brand’s logo, colors or fonts in the content. And when Steller does roll them out, brands might need to pay for the added features through a ‘freemium’ model, he said.”
Facebook is also working with WordPress parent company Automattic on a free plugin.