By Manita Dosanjh

May 6th, 2015

Instant Articles is here, and it’s going to change the way we consume the news.

Back in March, The New York Times reported that Facebook was in talks with the world’s leading news publishers about a coalition of sorts. Earlier this week, more details were confirmed. So what exactly is this new venture, and what is the journey ahead for publishers?

The initiative is reportedly called Instant Articles, and it will involve publishers allowing Facebook to host their content natively. For users, this means you’ll now be seeing whole articles published on the Facebook platform, as opposed to seeing posts that link to content externally. For Facebook, this will mean more commitment from its users. With users spending more time within Facebook’s walls, engagement will increase and referral traffic to external sites will subside.

the future of social media in journalism

So far, The New York Times, Buzzfeed and National Geographic have signed up, with the first instalments from The New York Times expected to be appearing later this month.

Facebook are keen to make Instant Articles an attractive option to publishers, with an enticing ad revenue model. Publishers will be allowed to keep 100 percent of revenue that is generated by ads displayed alongside their content.

This revenue stream will most likely be directly tied to the elusive newsfeed algorithm. If users are regularly engaging with your content, the likelihood is that it will be more likely to appear higher up the newsfeed, more likely that they’ll return, and therefore bump up your ad revenue stream.

It’s not the apocalypse
If you’re reading this as an editor, journalist, or general supporter of free press, the increasing involvement of Silicon Valley in news publishing will understandably seem ominous. There’s been a general sense of world-ending-armageddon-apocalypse feeling from the publishing world in recent times, and this anxiety is to be expected.

Facebook (along with its contemporary, Google) virtually controls access to the audiences that news publishers desperately need. With the recent update to its newsfeed algorithm (lovingly dubbed the ‘reach apocalypse’), publishers can no longer rely on organic reach for their content within the network, making Instant Articles the next necessary step. Good business for Facebook, mild coercion for publishers.

But it’s important to remember how integral Facebook is to keeping the news industry afloat; it sends more traffic to publishers than any other social network, and this isn’t something that could be easily reversed. The Facebook platform is built in to the way we consume news.

Take a look at how it dominated social media referrals to news sites in the UK last year:

the future of social media in journalism

From a publisher’s perspective, Instant Articles could be the most direct way to reach your audience and meet their needs. Native content will eliminate the intermediary link from Facebook to publisher, and this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead of investing time and resources on devising the right Facebook strategy to reach your readers, you can focus on creating content that will engage, and let the algorithm do the rest.

The ad revenue model could also be a solid way for digital publishers to grow as a business. It’s no secret that traditional publishers have struggled to establish a solid business model, and a coalition with the tech giants might be the next stage in the evolutionary process.

Going forward
There are a lot of details yet to be defined. At this point, no-one can be sure of exactly where this publisher/platform coalition is headed or what it means for the future of news reporting, but we can make some educated guesses. With publishing heavyweights like The New York Times and National Geographic, signing up for Instant Articles we can expect three things to happen.

Firstly, there will be a plethora of learnings for smaller publishers. If you follow the progress of the Instant Articles initiative, the type of content that works for each publisher will soon become apparent. The newsfeed algorithm quickly weeds out the content that users are not engaging with, and this will be telling.

Secondly, the old Silicon Valley mantra of ‘user experience’ will soon be relevant to news reporting. Users won’t engage with clunky content – delivering stories that are slick and easily consumed will become key.

Finally, the question of user-loyalty to media brands will become significant. Only time will tell with this one, but it’s still important to consider. Naturally, if users regularly find your content meaningful and engaging, brand loyalty will increase and benefit publishers in the eyes of the newsfeed algorithm. However, there could also be a more overarching concept at play here. If readers identify with your brand’s perspective, agree with the opinions you assert or believe your brand to be directly meeting a need, they’ll be willing to engage in a more long-term brand relationship.

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