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Facebook Instant Articles will shake up media (and benefit users)

Matt Kapko | May 22, 2015
Facebook is starving for professionally produced media, and publishers are desperate to reach people who abandoned them for social sites, so Facebook's Instant Articles could be a good thing for the company, its publisher partners and consumers.

[Related New Analysis: Facebook's future could include app consolidation]

Articles on Facebook need to be engaging and entertaining, and they should enhance the overall user experience, according to Yuki. By streamlining that experience, Facebook encourages users to spend more time on its site and less time waiting for stories to load or searching for content elsewhere. The leading social platforms of tomorrow will be those that make it easier and faster for friends and family to share and interact around meaningful content, Yuki says.

Facebook users are the winners in Instant Articles

Both Yuki and Paul Zwillenberg, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, say the shift in media consumption and delivery is a symbiotic relationship for Facebook and media publishers. "The platforms need quality content to attract and retain users and the content owners need distribution," says Zwillenberg.

There is no general consensus around which party needs the other more, or whether Instant Articles really are mutually beneficial, but it's a foregone conclusion that users gain much more than they lose in the deal. Facebook users already expect a seamless experience in the News Feed, and slow-loading links just don't fit that equation.

Instant Articles should increase the amount of time users spend on Facebook and significantly improve the user experience, according to Michael Dub, partner at Dxagency. "It is the first step toward Facebook truly competing with Google News as a core destination for users to get their news." 

Publishers at the mercy of Facebook's algorithm 

Facebook's new editorial product follows recent updates to the company's algorithm that determine the specific content that gets served to individual users in their News Feeds. Facebook says it is delivering more relevant and enjoyable content to users, but Forrester's Alfred Liousas says it is unclear exactly how the algorithm will weight Instant Articles.

"News sites ... have always been at the mercy of Facebook's algorithms, and Facebook has no obligation to let us in on those," says Ken Wisnefski, CEO of the digital marketing agency WebiMax. Facebook could provide more value to media publishers if it offers a guarantee that articles will reach desired demographics or certain amounts of users, he says.

[Related Feature: IT execs on Facebook at Work strengths and weaknesses]

It's tough to estimate the potential influence Facebook will wield as the distribution hub for articles, but content from select publishers will presumably be seen more often than it might otherwise, according to Wisnefski. Instant Articles could also eventually replace social shares from less reputable online sources, and that could help publishers increase their authority by drowning out hoaxes and clickbait from the content farms that have flooded Facebook for years.


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