Are Facebook’s Instant Articles the Next Wave in Branded Content?

After weeks of rumors, Facebook has partnered with nine publishers, including Buzzfeed and The New York Times to offer iPhone users Instant Articles, a faster distribution platform that publishes content directly to the site.instant-articles-facebook-iphone

While publishers have reportedly been wary of direct-to-Facebook links driving traffic away from their own sites, Facebook has offered a generous advertising model to compensate. The social network is allowing brands to either sell and embed their own advertisements or partner with Facebook’s ad team to sell ads and give 30 percent of the profits to Facebook.

The New York Times has decided to do the former and has partnered with Shell to sponsor its content, a source from the publication tells ClickZ. “We are selling advertising directly into Facebook Instant Articles and are very pleased that Shell has come on board as our launch sponsor. As the experiment grows, there will be opportunities to include more advertisers and we will maintain our direct relationship with all participating advertisers.”

Facebook’s main goal doesn’t seem to be increasing advertising revenue from its publishing partners but rather to keep people on its own app longer, citing lagging loading speeds as a main reason users left the app. By offering content, ads, and comment sections all in-app, Facebook is betting that users won’t want to leave, according to Layne Harris, vice president of innovation technology for 360i.

“Facebook is trying to be the internet. If they can be the ad distributors, content source, conversation center, and measurement and tracking authority, that’s the internet in a nutshell,” Harris says. “The move is super risky, but they’re banking on the fact that people will enjoy consuming content in this fashion.”

While publishing on Facebook seems like an all-round win for both brands and the social network, Tom Hyde, social strategy director at Droga5, does see a potential problem when it comes to formatting content for the network. Brands will either have to make two versions of articles: one with geotags, video, and other features optimized for their own sites and a separate format for Facebook or start producing Facebook-compatible content exclusively.

“The potential downside is that publishers will need to develop and design their websites and the articles they’re going to share on Facebook in a different manner,” Hyde says. “Especially if they want to include elements like geotagging. It could be quite a technical undertaking to redesign and recode content to exist on Facebook.”

However, despite the potential pain points associated with making content Facebook-compatible, Hyde anticipates the possibility of Facebook opening the Instant Articles platform to a variety of brands and publishers, saying that Instant Articles may even eliminate the need for hosting long-form branded content.

“Brands are looking to create content that will be shared on Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t want people to leave their site, so this new format essentially achieves both those goals,” Hyde says.

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