29th June 2016 marked a solemn date for publishers and brands alike. Facebook that has been a great platform for business to reach their customers announced few changes in their algorithm. With an attempt to make this global platform as ‘THE’ place for users to connect and share, it had decided to restrict the reach of organic posts from publishers on to their fans newsfeed.
What does that really mean for online publishers?
If I am a publisher and I have updated a post on my Facebook page, not all my fans will be able to see this post! Oops. I won’t be able to reach my posts to even those people who have actually liked my page!
Considering that publishers and businesses are relying heavily on FB for their reach, this change has not been embraced by either of them.
Rewind to 2015
Facebook launched Instant articles. Advertised as a platform that is suitable for publishers to create fast, interactive content and a platform that would provide higher reach, many published bought into the concept and started using it. Despite the hype it garnered during launch, none of the publishers used Instant Articles for the first three weeks. This shows the dilemma about the feature and probably their trust issues with Facebook.
Josh Roberts, Product manager of Facebook said that Instant Articles is a feature that was built to appease the impatient user, which we all have become in today’s day and age. A typical user does not want to wait for a page to load and 8 long seconds would probably be his entire attention span! You grab his attention before that or lose him for good.
Buzzfeed.com and Vox.com, that were exposed to Instant Articles trial period had good things to say! They were happy with the speed at which they could create and publish articles. The fact that it reached their audience much faster was a better experience. While using Instant Articles, their ‘unique visitor growth’ showed a significant jump. There was an increase in the ‘post shares’ as well and overall these two publishers were willing to lay their bet on this feature.
Does it make sense for publishers to be seen where their audience really are?
To make publishers adopt to the concept, Facebook threw in a very lucrative offer! For ads sold on the article’s original posting on the publisher’s website, the publisher can keep 100% of revenue and for ads sold by Facebook, the publisher gets 70% of the revenue.
Considering the size of the user base and the engagement factor, Facebook was able to attract a large number of publishers who were looking to monetise their content.
Fast forward to December 2016
With the change in the algorithm, publishers have witnessed a steady decline in their website traffic. They have also seen lesser engagement in the last few months.
A publisher who started using Instant Articles last year and wished to stay anonymous quoted that
Despite the increase in the number of articles posted via Instant Articles, the reach per post has shown a significant decrease and that must attribute to the new change Facebook has made by the end of last year. According to the analysis from Social Flow, there has been a 42% dip in the reach per post which is substantial for publishers to express their unhappiness. So it bottoms down to what are the pros and cons of this feature by Facebook.
Pros and Cons of Facebook’s Instant Articles for Publishers
Instant Articles is a lucrative platform for publishers as they
1. Will be able to create and deliver content fast
2. Maintain their brand identity – In the form of Master head, typography, iconography etc
3. Can reach their audience who are highly engaged on Facebook
4. Will be able to provide a seamless experience and
5. Earn 100% revenue through ads.
They can also earn 70% of the ads being sold by Facebook while the giant retains 30% of it.
Not a very rosy side of Instant Articles, especially after the change in the algorithm would be
1. Publishers losing control over their user experience
2. Reduced reach
3. Reduced engagement and
4. Publishers may have to increase advertising spends to maintain engagement.
5. Poor SEO as links would point to Facebook and not the publisher’s website
Despite mixed reviews about Facebook’s feature, a substantial amount publishers believe that Facebook’s attempt is to become the most powerful platform that can eventually use its power to strong-arm publishers in the future.
Does that mean a slow death for publishers who are struggling to keep their head above the water while Facebook becomes the platform for news? Is this a battle about winning or losing? I think not. Facebook has already won. By giving publishers a lucrative offer to earn ad revenue using their platform, who are currently struggling to distribute content in the digital space, the loss of control for publishers doesn’t seem to be a big deal.
What is the idea behind luring publishers with a 100% revenue share is under question? Is it an initial offer to get news and media distribution onto their platform? Is there more than what our naked eyes can see? Are they trying to eat up everything from media to politics to retail to leisure to banking industries and eventually become the world? Only time will tell. However, it is important for publishers to adapt to the fast-paced digital world and accept changes such as these while keeping in mind that they must not bet all their cards on a single platform like Facebook. With a history to show, it is evident that Facebook can change its algorithm and the advertising revenue model it has currently proposed overnight and that will leave publishers stranded.
Is Facebook too big to be Trusted with the Future of News?
Last words – Instant Articles provides a seamless experience and higher user engagement, thanks to the 1.86 Billion active users this social networking platform has as of today. It is a great feature from FB, quite useful for end users and not so lucrative for publishers in the long run.
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