Facebook recently launched a new service called Instant Articles, which allows publishers to create content that stays native to the social media platform, rather than requiring users to click through to the content publisher's website. Content publishers of all types need to assess what this might represent as a trend: if content is staying walled into social media platforms, how do they adjust their business models? What are the important metrics for success?
For Shaul Olmert, CEO of social content creation platform PlayBuzz which continues to be the most shared publisher on Facebook, the change is actually natural. It means that rather than focusing on how many people you can get to click on your links, publishers should focus on the quality of their content and having it in a format that users actually enjoy.
All of this speculation only matters if we think that Instant Articles represents the beginning of a new path in online publishing. It's easy to imagine it flopping since commonly held beliefs tell us that publishers would never want to lose traffic to their websites. Yet publishers from The New York Times to National Geographic are already using Instant Articles. Olmert warns that they "are starting very cautiously," but the legitimacy gained from some of the most respectable publishers in the world using the service is not to be underestimated.
So if the trend is going to stick, how should content publishers adjust? In this new system, getting views on your content is a function of two things according to Olmert: "the quality of content created" and the "level of priority Facebook decides to give Instant Articles in the newsfeed." Publishers can only control one half of the equation, so they have to focus on creating the best content possible.
That brings us back to that cheesy mantra Internet publishing gurus have been trying to use for years: Content is King. If you have great content, the viewers will come. It's turned out that in many ways that did not hold true. Whether due to SEO, advertising, or other intangibles, good content could easily go unnoticed, but Instant Articles may change that, at least a little bit. As Olmert puts it, brands can afford to "no longer focus on where the user consumes their content, but rather on how engaging their content is."
If you're a user, this is all sounding great. Content quality is the key, so it should go up. You never have to leave your Facebook newsfeed to get high quality content. What if you're the publisher? Your entire online business model has potentially been disrupted. One might think that all online publishers who thrive on social sharing, of which PlayBuzz seems a solid example, would be in the worst position. Yet Olmert actually sees those kinds of companies being able to be at the core of the change. He says the "solution may come in the form of sponsored content." For him, content creators that can generate creative and innovative forms of native advertising will be in the best place to leverage new opportunities created by content native to social media platforms. Over 40,000 publishers and brands have used PlayBuzz to create and distribute fun content in "snackable formats optimized for maximum vitality and shareability," and Olmert thinks that model can be extended into the era of Instant Articles.
That means reevaluating which metrics we value in terms of measuring success for online content. We used to look at how many times users clicked through to publishers' websites, but Olmert says that "click-through rates are no longer the currency of digital publishing." Now we have to look at metrics that measure how engaging and interesting content is. Olmert focuses on metrics like item completion rates and attention minutes, others think more about shares and comments, but either way the move is from thinking about click-through to thinking about engagement.
We may be heralding in a new era of online content publishing. Though it sometimes feels like we say that far too often, content changing from being consumed on proprietary platforms such as the websites of the publishers to being consumed on social media platforms actually is a monumental change. As Olmert put it, "publishers no longer own the means of media distribution."