As more users consume media on social, Facebook’s Instant Articles are a way to get readers to publishers’ content faster and easier than ever, and that means more engagement for publishers as well.
We last looked at Instant Articles in December. These Instant Articles, for mobile users only, load around 10 times faster than regular mobile links, according to Facebook.
Rather than waiting for a potentially bad mobile experience, you can tap and read the article almost instantaneously. Google has done this as well, with AMP, Accelerated Mobile Pages that users can thumb through in almost a Tinder-like method.
How can you distinguish an Instant Article in the news feed?
A lightning bolt symbol in the upper right will indicate an Instant Article. Initially, Instant Articles were only open to a selection of publishers, but they are now available for all pages to publish, after an application.
When we looked at the New York Times’ Instant Articles last December, we saw they were getting on average, 3.5 times more shares, 2.5 times more likes, and 5.5 times more comments.
Is that still true? We investigated.
Five Days of Instant Articles
We looked at five days of links published to the New York Times’s Facebook page. From September 16th through September 20th, there were 22 Instant Articles posted to the New York Times’ main Facebook page.
How many were posted total? There were 200 external link posts to the Facebook page in those five days, putting Instant Articles at roughly 10 percent of all links.
Of these 200 posts, the average amount of native engagements was 2,626 total likes/reactions, shares, and comments. For the 22 Instant Articles, that number was 4,373 total engagements. The data comes from NewsWhip Spike.
Surprisingly, there wasn’t a tremendous difference in the comments. The most commented link posts from the New York Times were primarily political pieces, which can be polarizing and spark debate. Nonetheless, the overall engagements are in favor of Instant Articles.
When we looked at the New York Times’ most engaging links of August, eight of the top ten were also Instant Articles.
Which Articles Get to Be Instant Articles?
Let’s take a look at the Instant Articles that New York Times is publishing. As we noted, that’s only 10 percent of the links they published in our five-day selection.
These were the top 10 most engaging Instant Articles for the New York Times from September 16th through 20th.
These stories aren’t “breaking news”, necessarily. They’re primarily long-form think pieces and analytical diatribes. In fact, 21 of the 22 links exist under nytimes.com/opinion.
Eight of the 22 were political, but they tended towards being op-eds and longer analyses, than the more reactionary articles that were the top commented external links.
Why might the New York Times be selecting these to convert to Instant Articles?
For the most part, these articles have evergreen value. There are six health and science stories here, along with stories about race, class, and gender, education, and human interest pieces. Many of these articles don’t have a limited relevance and can continue to be read and shared.
Since these articles are also longer, it’s worth taking advantage of Instant Article’s rapid loading times. This gives the reader faster access to a story that may have been too cumbersome to wait for on mobile otherwise.
Some publishers, like Washington Post, are publishing all their links as Instant Articles. This can be done through linking the Instant Articles set-up to an RSS feed.
Many other publishers have adopted Instant Articles for only some of their links, as the New York Times is doing. PopSugar, The Atlantic, BILD, Slate, and Vox are all posting some, but not all, of their links as Instant Articles. As with any new format, this may be so that they can test Instant Articles against regular link posts, or that they’ve seen more success with certain types of content.
For Vox, Slate, and the Atlantic, they all posted around ten percent of their links as Instant Articles for the five days we surveyed. Their Instant Articles all saw more likes/reactions, shares, and comments than regular links.
The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Dodo, and Washington Post are all publishing all of their links to Facebook as Instant Articles. With the engagement numbers as high as they are, this could be more beneficial than the New York Times’ pick-and-choose tactic.
Nearly all of Huffington Post, Mic, and BuzzFeed’s links are now being posted as Instant Articles.
A range of other leading sites, including BBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic posted Instant Articles less frequently over the period, as they continue to tweak and test their approach to the format.
What to Know about Instant Articles
In the end, it’s all about making a better user experience for your users. This is what Facebook has been doing with each new change, whether it’s favoring content shared by one’s friends and family, or vowing to eliminate clickbait. Video can be more quickly consumable, and Instant Articles load faster. In the global picture, Instant Articles make an enormous difference to those not connected to high-speed Internet.
It’s clear The New York Times is doing research around which stories will convert best to Instant Articles. Tools like Spike can be used to discover the newest trending stories for what your audience will react best to.
These stories are ranked by Spike’s Predicted Interactions view, showing what’s going to take off in social media.
Like Facebook Live, Instant Articles has a lot of room for experimentation. Monitor which of your content resounds the best. Give your users the content they want, and make it easy for them to digest.