In the summer of 2015, Facebook launched a new publishing format that promised to better meet the needs of both consumers and publishers. Facebook Instant Articles was a fast-loading, no-nonsense publishing tool that was perfect for the needs of readers on mobile. It gave users the information they wanted in a speedy, easy-to-read setting. While Instant Articles was a hit with readers, publishers were left wanting more, especially when it came to monetization. The new system didn’t provide the same financial results as publications’ mobile web sites; further, it resulted in low ad density and required publications to give up control over their own content. Now Facebook has introduced a new update that is ready to change all of that.
In an October 12 blog post, Harshit Argawal, a Facebook product manager, said simply, “We’re bringing more options for publishers to monetize their Instant Articles.” The two biggest changes affect both those publishers selling ads directly, and those using the Facebook Audience Network. Publishers using the direct route have a new option when it comes to how their display ads will look—most notably, support for larger ad units that are sold directly into Instant Articles. This allows publishers to sell Facebook the same ad units that they sell across all of their properties, and repurpose more of the ads they use on their own site or on other formats. Instant Article advertisements can now range from a 2:1 ratio, or a horizontal band, to a 2:3 ratio, creating a larger vertical ad. These new formats mean more flexibility when it comes to monetizing the content they post on the platform.
For publishers using the Facebook Audience Network, new video and carousel options will now be available. These new formats will allow for targeting that expands beyond Facebook, again offering more versatility for monetization options. In a separate announcement, Facebook says it will implement 360-degree video and pictures into Instant Articles as well. These provide another tool for publishers to boost the user experience inside Facebook’s publishing tool.
All of this means one thing for certain: Facebook is listening. Publishers “would really like a way to make money on Facebook directly. Not just from the actions that people take off of Facebook,” Facebook VP of Partnerships Dan Rose said in a September interview with Poynter. “That feedback has inspired us to think hard about how we can enable that type of monetization on Facebook directly.”
So what’s next for Instant Articles? Over the next few months, Rose said, Instant Articles will begin supporting the larger ad units and custom, premium ad units that publications offer on their mobile websites and mobile applications. Looking further ahead, Instant Articles would seem to offer untapped potential in CPMs, or cost per 1,000 impressions, based on the extensive user data the social network collects and the audience-targeting capabilities this provides. So far this hasn’t been reflected in impression pricing, but will this valuable customer data eventually be converted into higher CPMs? That’s something to keep an eye on as the tool keeps evolving.
Last year a Pew Research center survey stated that 63 percent of social network users said they treated Facebook as a news source, up from 47 percent in 2013. Facebook’s increasing role as an alternative source for news, along with these new options, increases the value of the platform for publishers while still promising to provide a great user experience for readers. That should be the goal of any publishing tool, and Facebook seems intent on expanding their service until it excels at serving publishers as well as it serves users.