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What publishers need to know about Facebook Instant Articles

If you're working out how to push more traffic to your website from social media then this week has delivered what could turn out to be very interesting news. Facebook finally unveiled its Instant Articles feature with a promise to the publishing industry that wants to help solve some of its trickiest problems.

Essentially Facebook Instant Articles is a way in which publishers can showcase their content on Facebook’s mobile app in a quick, intriguing and interactive way.

So is this the social breakthrough that publishers have been waiting for? Here are a few things anyone involved the media needs to know about Facebook Instant Articles.

1. Facebook really is playing nicely

Re/Code reports that rather than try and impose a new format on the media Facebook instead went to publishers and asked them how they would like to see their content presented. It is reflection of how important content is to Facebook, as well as how crucial Facebook has become to publishers (for example following a recent Facebook tweak the New York Times now states that it gets 20 per cent of its traffic from the platform) that what seems like a scalable and innovative solution has been agreed.

As well as enabling publishers to present their content in an interactive, interactive way Facebook has always said that it will let publishers keep 100 per cent of the advertising revenue they sold for their content - or Facebook will sell it for them and give them 70 per cent. 

2. It is a mobile format

One thing to bear in mind is that Facebook Instant Articles won’t work on desktop. It is built from the ground up as a mobile format. As Michael Reckhow Facebook product manager says the key is improving the reader’s experience by reducing the amount of time the story takes to load.

‘People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.’

At launch Instant Articles are only available on the iOS iPhone app and not on any Android apps. As time goes by that is surely likely to change. For now though Facebook is focusing a largish niche.

3. Not everyone can join

So can any publisher present their content in this way? Well maybe, but not now? Facebook has lined up a small number of publishers (among them The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The New York Times and Nat Geo) to showcase how Instant works - and you can find a very good dissection of how the publishers used the platform for on the day it went live here.

Facebook clearly needs to ensure the Instant Articles works properly before it can roll it out to other publishers. It insists though that the content is very easy for publishers to produce and it is clearly in Facebook’s interests to line up as mainly publishers as possible.

Any publishers wanting to join the queue can send a message to Facebook here.

4. It could be crucial for longform content

One of the most intriguing parts of Facebook Instant Articles is that it attempts to solve what is likely to evolve into a key issues for publishers -  how do they get people reading Longform premium content on mobile devices? Longform works exceptionally well on tablets and reasonably well on desktop, but can be clunky on mobile, especially as readers have, up until now been largely used to consuming smaller chunks of content their phones. 

Facebook Instant Articles overcomes this by incorporating a host of whizzy interactive features - which include auto play video, maps, audio commentary and more. Not surprisingly several of the publishing companies have chosen to showcase longform content on their debut posts on Instant Articles for example, Nat Geo's Quest For A Super Bee is a wonderfully compelling mixture of striking images, mapping features and over 2,600 word of text. It proved to be the most popular Instant Article on the first days generating 24,000 interactions.

It will be interesting to see too how often media brands use Facebook Instant Articles. Will they keep it for their premium stories, or follow NBC which is planning on publishing 25 stories per day on the format. Only time will tell.

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