Instant Articles present new opportunities and challenges for publishers

Facebook Instant Articles
Instant Articles are a fast and beautiful way for readers to access content directly from their Facebook Newsfeed.

Debuting in May of 2015, Facebook Instant Articles are nearing their first birthday, and in that time marketers and large publishers have had a chance to experiment with publishing full articles directly to the newsfeed without redirecting users to an external site.

When the project was first proposed to publishers, one of the major advantages was that hosting the content on Facebook’s servers dramatically reduced load times. As the name implies, Instant Articles found articles loading nearly instantly within the app.  External links took 5-10 seconds by the time the browser would launch and the page could load. The purported benefit was that users would click on an article more readily as they could more immediately determine if the content was of interest. The goal for many publishers is for pages to launch in under two seconds.

In a move that surprised many, the terms of these partnerships were surprisingly favorable for publishers, allowing them to sell and embed their own ads and receive 100% of the revenue, or use Facebook’s in-house advertising services, surrendering 30% of the profits in the revenue sharing deal. Facebook also provides advanced reporting metric courtesy of Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture to ensure publishers could continue to monitor performance.

But while the initial impressions seemed mutually beneficial, there are areas where publishers have cause for concern both in the near-term and in the big picture when considering the service’s viability.

Allowing Facebook to become the new “gate keeper”

With great power comes great responsibility and Facebook is increasingly becoming the primary traffic source for many publishers. As this dynamic and the percentage of readers continues to increase, it’s possible that publishers will stand to lose leverage in the relationship if they’re beholden to a channel providing such a large percentage of viewers.

Advertising Limitations

At present, Facebook limits the number of advertisements (two) that publishers can run within an Instant Article, and currently doesn’t allow native ads to run. While the rationale is to boost of the value of the content in the eyes of the reader by preventing content from being over-stuffed with promotional material, it’s an element of control that many publishers and advertisers are finding themselves reluctant to give up.

Traffic Inconsistencies

Since Instant Article content is hosted on Facebook’s servers rather than the publisher’s, it stands to reason that traffic volume may shift from one source to the next when implementing the strategy. But while a reader going from column A to column B is fine, publishers are concerned with the ability for the reader to continue their journey. Since the reader never leaves the app they’re unable to fully explore the publisher’s site without a navigation bar or quality calls to action, no matter how helpful your hyperlinks, effectively limiting the time spent consuming conduct or finding other material.

Many publishers view the service with cautious optimism, but Facebook’s terms of service will be the pivotal point in the success of the program and its publishers. As we’ve seen with video, and then again with live video, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithms are subject to constant changes, so while the current environment is favorable, the company’s history of rapid change is worries some as the next algorithmic iteration may devalue a publisher’s heavy investment in instant articles.

Retaliation from Google or Twitter

To ignore the other titans of the internet is to turn a blind eye to competition. Facebook’s Instant Articles have seen momentum in partner acquisition, but the rollout to users was relatively slow, giving competitors ample time to respond. Google’s own “Accelerated Mobile Pages” (AMP) also dramatically reduces load times on mobile by leveraging simplified HTML code and the search engine’s page caching technique. Twitter seems to be aligning with the search giant and collaborated in the development of AMP, making an attractive alternative for publishers who want viewers to remain within their site’s ecosystem while maintaining total control over advertising.

Instant Articles: Still a fledgling offering

The potential red flags were evident this past March, when some publishers saw traffic decrease 20-25%, with no obvious explanations offered by either party. Like all innovation, Instant Articles are a work in progress. Facebook will continue to refine the offering, but emerging technology is often rough around the edges or even prone to unforeseen threats in the form of bugs, or shifting behavioral changes. The abnormality in March’s traffic might just be a blip on the radar, but some are concerned that it may be indicative of potential broader instability that needs attention.

Ultimately, this battle for viewer attention is far from over, and publishers would always be wise to continue monitoring their individual performance but keep tabs on the industry as a whole to take the market’s pulse and identify trends signaling an opportunity to employ new techniques rather than go with the flow.

Here at Intermarkets, we will be testing out Facebook Instant Articles in the upcoming weeks.  We will be monitoring performance results closely to ensure that our users are getting the best user experience, distribution is consistent, and monetization remains strong.

 

big news about The Political Insider

Nine months ago, Intermarkets launched a content program to transform The Political Insider from an opt-in email list to a digital news publication and social community. Since then, the site has seen impressive growth, and a cohesive, engaged following on social media.

Here’s a short list of milestones and big news about The Political Insider since its re-launch:

  • Top 10 most socially engaged media outlets in March 2015.
  • Grew 14-fold on Facebook to 1.4 million fans.
  • Top Facebook posts have reached 10 million people.
  • Popular articles have reached #4 on the Viral News Chart.
  • 7 million web visitors in March 2015.
  • Consistently a top 500 site according to Quantcast.

Several months ago, our Business Development Manager Vipul Mistry wrote about some of his insights in growing The Political Insider’s social presence. Check them out here—they clearly worked!

Those engagement numbers also tell us we are giving consumers what they want, which is the most important factor to success.

Check out our press release further detailing these milestones and more here.

Last week, Intermarkets’ new creative copywriter attended the Digital East conference in Tysons, Virginia. He compiled these top 5 marketing insights from the digital east conference for marketers.

Have you been using these strategies and ideas? Do you have anything to add? Let us know!

Digital East Top 5 Insights Banner

  1. Be Media Agnostic

For most marketers, the platforms you utilize to publish or advertise are means, not ends. While your tactics need to reflect each specific platform, your strategy doesn’t really change. At the end of the day, B2C marketers use platforms to drive conversions, and B2B marketers generate leads.

It’s vitally important to take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of the platforms you are using, whether it’s Facebook, AdWords, or WordPress. But all of these platforms have one thing in common: you use them to spread your message. You need to go where your consumers are, and that means using the mediums that work for your audience, not the ones you like best.

  1. Is There a Knowledge Problem?

Marketers know they need to speak to the level of their audience, but this is easier said than done. We deal with our areas of expertise all day, every day. But do our customers? Is there a simple, yet crucial piece of information we’re leaving out, simply because to us, it’s elementary?

Take a look at your communications with your clients and leads. You may be missing just one small piece that can really improve your business.

  1. Consumers Can be Creators and Brands, Too

In the past, creators, consumers, and brands were all more or less distinct. Today, that line is blurring like never before. Social media allows consumers to become creators. Creators can become popular enough to become a recognized brand identity. Heck, people and companies can be all three.

To know your audience, it’s important to understand the different roles they play as well as how they see themselves. This also makes sense for B2B firms. After all, businesses that are customers are also creators.

  1. Don’t Talk To. Converse With.

“New” media, (read: social) allows for a two-way conversation between producers and consumers in real-time and in public. It’s both a major challenge as well as a golden opportunity to grow your business and connect with your customers in new ways.

As Robin Wheeler of Twitter pointed out, 63% of customers reported more positive attitudes towards brands that simply engaged with them on social media. Companies are just groups of people. Don’t present yourself as a faceless monolith. You understand your audience, you engage in voluntary exchanges with your customers, so talk to them! Which leads us to the final insight:

  1. H2H

You may have heard this already, but human-to-human is the new buzzword. But it’s more than just a buzzword. It’s a way of thinking about your business and your customers, and it’s the way you want your customers to think about you. It’s the basic premise that, at the end of the day, all interactions take place between individuals.

When John Doe buys a widget from the Widget Company, he’s buying a product that was designed by people, marketed by people, and sold by people. Obvious, right? But the Widget Company is after more than John’s dollars. WC, whether they want to or not, needs to please John. They need to please John to keep him as a customer, to protect their reputation, and to promote their product.

What’s more, is that the people who comprise WC want to please John. They want to because he’s a person, and they are people. They expect the same when they act as consumers. Nobody wants to deal with a brand logo.

We’ll have more on this, but the bottom line is your customers want to know there’s a person on the other end, not a robot.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
The Ice Bucket Challenge will face its own challenges.

Is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a monster success? Yes, and maybe. If you use the Internet, you’ve seen the Ice Bucket Challenge. Participants record themselves pouring ice water over their heads, donate to an ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) charity, and pass it on by challenging others publicly, by name.

On its face, the challenge is a huge success in terms of engagement and short-term fundraising, as Emily Alford relates over at ClickZ. In less than a month, the ALS Association increased fundraising 10-fold over last year during the same time period.

It’s not hard to understand why. The challenge is everywhere. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s on your social media, your email inbox, and on TV news. The amount of money donated so far is simply put, staggering.

But there could be a serious drawback to the, perhaps first (or at least biggest) decentralized viral fundraising drive. While the Ice Bucket Challenge is totally individual-driven and doesn’t require direction from some central source, it also doesn’t seem to have the attributes we normally see in campaigns with staying power.

Challenges ahead

The Ice Bucket Challenge is built around the challenge, not the problem its being used to solve. The challenge itself makes only brief, if any, reference to ALS. Participants may learn more about ALS and current research if they read up on it while donating, but where is the emotional buy-in?

Such sudden success will need aggressive, relevant remarketing campaigns for first-time donors—ones that focus donors on ALS itself. Long-term projects like scientific research require long-term, steady funds more than short mega-bursts of cash. That means a plan to retain and cultivate as many first-time donors as possible.

What it means is stewardship, and a marketing strategy to make it happen.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is brilliant. But for the sake of ALS victims, fundraising should not dry up next year. Expect to read much more about remarketing and branding strategies for ALS research when the Ice Bucket Challenge runs out of steam.

Like we’ve said before, the 2014 election is a prettttty big deal. It will decide which party controls Congress, and significantly set the stage for the 2016 Presidential Election. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to break the mold and use today’s innovative digital tools to give your campaign the edge it needs to win.

Social media will prove to be an even more crucial tool for political campaigns in 2014 than for campaigns back in 2008 and 2012. Social media is a key source of voter information. Social media is one of the major activities on mobile devices. And social media is a great way to connect with voters on a personal level.

If you’re just getting started (or you’re in over your head!), we’ve put together this list of 7 best practices for social media and political campaigns to get you started. We hope you enjoy!

Consistency is key.

The number one rule of social media is to be consistent. By this, we don’t mean “keep doing the same thing”—you should always be experimenting with new trends, features, and strategies. Consistency is most important when talking about frequency. Your social media followers will expect you to tweet, blog, or post on a consistent basis—and if you don’t, they’ll go listen to someone who does.

No Ghost Towns

If you join a network, be prepared to be active on it. This is the corollary to consistency being key. It’s important, when choosing social media platforms (and there as SO MANY to choose from), to be picky about where you put your efforts. You don’t want to overextend yourself, or start using a platform only to drop it a few weeks later. That’s wasted effort, and social media is all about the long game—you’re building a relationship with your audience, and a relationship takes time.

Each Platform Has a Distinct Language—Learn to Speak It!

One of the most common social media mistakes people make it sharing the same message in the same way across all the social media platforms. The platforms are different—from the reasons people use them to the way they use them. Understanding each platform’s subtleties is the first step to creating messages that will resonate with your audience. You can find a good breakdown of the “Big Four” (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr) here, although some would argue that Instagram has overtaken Flickr in relevancy. Other important networks to consider are LinkedIn (especially for campaigns that focus on business issues), Pinterest (especially good for reaching women and people in the education space), and Google + (for reaching people in the tech space and for SEO purposes).

Listen to Your Audience

Have you ever heard the old adage, “Listen twice as much as you speak”? This is still true in social media! Social media shouldn’t be a bullhorn you use to blare your message out at the world—it’s more like a ticket to an event where you have the chance to connect with your voters, donors, and supporters on a one-on-one basis. Setting up a social listening strategy can help you to keep abreast of what’s already being said about you, participate in the conversations that matter, and gauge the temperature of your audience to better direct your publishing strategy.

Use Social Advertising to Expand Your Reach

Another title of this section could have been, “Social advertising isn’t cheating! It’s using your resources wisely.” As forces like the Facebook algorithm change and increased competition have made it harder to connect with an audience organically, social advertising has become a viable way of drawing in audiences when you want them to take a specific action. And that’s the main “best practice” with social advertising—only employ it when there’s a specific action you’re prompting users to take (i.e. “Donate now!” or “Tell your friends to go vote today!”). Social ads have actually been proven to make or break an election—learn how to use them in your favor!

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Social media platforms are becoming increasingly visual, and your posts should follow suit. Social media is a war of attention, and a beautiful photograph or an informative graphic is a great way of winning the battle for your audience. Even on Twitter, the wordiest of the platforms, tweets with images see a significant improvement in clicks, retweets, and conversions. And you don’t have to have an in-house designer to participate (thought it doesn’t hurt!). There are lots of online tools, many of them free, to easily create engaging graphics—check out 14 of them here.

Keep Learning!

The most important guideline of all! Social media changes fast, and what’s in this week could be out next week. There are always new platforms popping up, and old platforms are constantly evolving. One of the best ways to keep on top of this is to follow leaders in the space—you can find many of them on Twitter, or by searching for social media best practices and seeing which names keep popping up. Also make sure to keep and monitor a list of other campaigns that are doing social media well—when they change course, you’ll know to reexamine your own approach.

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