Facebook’s IA is Feeling the Chill

fb-ia-frozenMany early adopters of Facebook’s Instant Articles are posting less and less; some have stopped entirely. Are publishers turning a cold shoulder to the platform?

Instant Articles, the controversial news publishing platform launched by Facebook in May of 2015, has hit a slump.

“Several media outlets, some of them early adopters to Facebook’s fast-loading Instant Article format, seem to be posting less and less there, according to a new analysis by NewsWhip and confirmed in independent reporting by Digiday,” writes Lucia Moses in Digiday.

The analysis, Moses reports, looked at the posting patterns of several big-name media brands and noted a definite drop.

We’re not terribly surprised. The expected trade-off – articles that load much faster than regular content, and the promise of robust reader data – never seemed like a good trade to us. But publishers piled on, fearing what would happen if they weren’t on board.

Two things are happening now that seem to be making it an even worse bet for publishers.

“Since Instant launched, Facebook has also been aggressively pushing video over text articles in the news feed, which gives publishers more incentive to respond by posting lots of video, which rewards them with more engagement than text articles do,” Moses explains.

The surge in video interest combines with the reality that Facebook is making money on media brand content, while the revenue share for the brands is low and the promised data is skimpy at best.

Reader behavior has to be taken into account as well. They may get the majority of their daily news from social sites and digital feeds, but research shows that when consumers need and want something more substantial, with greater context and understanding, they don’t look to Facebook to provide that but go direct to trusted media sources.

“[NBC News] said that when it first started using Instant Articles, it was posting ‘pretty much all’ of its top content so it could see what worked best on the platform,” Moses continues. “[They] found that people are willing to click through to its site when there’s breaking news, so it’s posting less of those articles on Instant Articles while posting more feature-type content, a spokesperson there said.”

The Boston Globe has stopped posting there entirely, saying “We didn’t see a lift in engagement, at least not materially.”

Meanwhile, one industry expert sees a profound shift in how magazine media brands should be looking at their content.

“Content creators should be distributing stories – long and short form, including rich media – via their chosen platforms, as well as into article-based apps, continuously via social, online and email,” writes David Hicks in InPublishing. “This should all be supported by advertisers and sponsors, and, ideally, your subscribers, via a well thought out and marketed paywall or membership model.”

Third-party distribution continues to be a crapshoot, and publishers not using IA saw their engagement on Facebook plunge last fall. It looks like publishers are beginning to realize there is life outside the IA garden and are taking back control of the content they create.