We look at engagement numbers on Instant Articles for the New York Times, and find that average interaction rates are higher than on normal links.
Instant Articles have been a reality for partner publishers and iPhone users since October 20.
Since then, we haven’t heard a whole lot about how that’s going for the different participants. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the New York Times are seeing a higher share rate of Instant Articles than regular links. Meanwhile, the Product Manager for Instant Articles, Michael Reckow, told Nieman that the numbers were positive:
“The first thing we’re seeing is that people are more likely to share these articles, compared to articles on the mobile web, because Instant Articles load faster; the majority load in under a second, and that means people are getting to the content immediately.”
But we’ve yet to get any other sort of context on the effect that Instant Articles are having on Facebook users’ engagement habits, so decided to take a closer look at the data.
We analysed the last 20 Instant Articles that the New York Times have posted to their main Facebook page, from Monday, November 9, to this morning, November 12.
The first Instant Article we analysed was published to the Times’ page at 16.45 GMT on Monday. The 20th was published at 2am GMT on November 12.
In that space of time, 99 links, excluding the Instant Articles, videos and pictures, were posted to the main New York Times Facebook page.
These were the average engagement rates on the 99 links:
Average Facebook Shares per post: 335
Average Likes per post: 1,437
Average Comments per post: 173
When we looked at the engagement rates on the 20 instant articles, things were much different. The biggest New York Times article on Facebook during the time we reviewed was an opinion piece by Paul Krugman, which attracted over 28,700 shares, 85,000 likes, and over 9,000 comments. It was also posted as an Instant Article on Facebook on November 9.
Treating the Krugman article as an outlier, these were the average engagement rates on the remaining 19 Instant Articles:
Average Facebook Shares per Post: 1,219
Average Likes per post: 3,438
Average Comments per post: 944
In terms of engagement, the Instant Articles outperformed the regular links by a significant factor. They were shared over 3.5 times more, liked over twice as much, and commented on almost five and a half time more than the regular links.
There are some caveats. Firstly, these engagements are for all interactions on the Instant Articles, not just the interactions made by iPhone users. For now, Android and Desktop users see Instant Articles as regular links, and any engagement they make on them are included in the numbers for the Instant Articles.
Secondly, like many publishers (with the notable exception of the Washington Post), the Times seem to be posting very specific types of articles in the Instant format. There’s a mix of in-depth features, opinion pieces, and analysis. Here’s a full list of the 20 Instant Articles we looked at, with their engagement numbers, as of November 12:
These are pieces that you would assume would do well on Facebook anyway.
Finally, we’ve only looked at the situation for the New York Times, and only 20 of their posts at that. But even though this is a relatively small dataset, and Instant Articles have only been live for a few weeks, the figures are insightful.
Instant Articles Attract More Comments
'Instant Articles for the @nytimes attract over five times as many comments as regular links!' Click To Tweet
The Instant Articles attract a much higher volume of comments on Facebook than the regular links. Normally, comments on big Facebook stories will almost never outweigh shares. In the above chart, eight of the top 20 Instant Articles have the same or more comments than shares. When we look at the 20 most shared regular NYT links from the same time period, only one article had more comments than shares.
It may be possible to explain this as follows: If the reader clicks a story linked that interests them, they’re directed to the website (which can take a while), where they’re commenting platforms of another sort. Facebook readers are probably unlikely to return from the website to the original Facebook post just to leave a comment. However, commenting on an instant article seems like a far less arduous task.
Publishers will be watching closely to see whether Facebook will give any kind of preferential treatment to Instant Articles in the news feed, like what happened with native videos. If that proves to be the case, we can expect to see a lot more Instant Articles in the news feed in 2016, as a result of the anticipated further roll-out of the feature across more platforms and devices, more sites signing up for the program, and shifting consumer expectations.
In the meantime, publishers will continue to look for a solution to that pesky revenue question.
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