facebook instant articles

Something important is about to happen, and the impact on content marketers will be profound.

Facebook announced it would open up Instant Articles -– formatted and optimized to load almost immediately -– to any publisher without a special approval process.

To make it effortless for even small bloggers, Facebook announced in a post this week that it is teaming up with WordPress for a plugin that allows us to publish from our blog directly to Facebook.

WordPress powers more than 25 percent of all websites, according to Facebook, so making it easier for WordPress users to sign up for Instant Articles will certainly open the floodgates to an incredible new wave of content.

Let’s look at the implications for digital marketers.

1. A shift in distribution

Obviously, we are on the brink of a dramatic shift in how content is seen and discovered. Facebook wants to be a primary source of news and information and if their wish comes true, and it probably will, this company will be in charge of distributing our content to a large part of our audience. Their algorithm will decide who sees what we create. There is no transparency to this algorithm. We can guess whether our video content will do well this month or next, but we will never know for sure.

One of the beautiful things about the web is that it is scattered and fragmented — everyone can find their own path. And of course this will still be true to a large extent. But increasingly there is a far greater concentration of power in this area of content distribution than at any other time in our digital history. Facebook wants to build a content monopoly and there is probably no existing regulation or market force that can stop them.

2. A shift in monetization

Closely linked to distribution and content discovery is monetization. Facebook will promote the content that can make them the most money. This is probably bad news for most of us.

While we would like to think that the “best content rises to the top,” anybody producing content for a living knows this is a mythical point of view and it will certainly not be true once Facebook becomes the gatekeeper. Like any good business, Facebook isn’t obligated to promote the best content, it is rewarded for promoting the most popular content … and that would be quizzes, lists, and celebrity gossip (nine out of the top 10 articles shared on the web last year were quizzes).

An important power shift is in process. The “editors” now in charge are not accountable to journalistic standards, ethical standards, expectations for diversity of thought, quality, fairness, or the public good.

In fact, the people now in charge are probably not people at all but little bits of code that have a job to respond to dwell time and content profitability and reward their fellow bits and bytes accordingly.

If you’re in the celebrity gossip business this is good news. Perhaps Facebook will become the ultimate Trump network.

The good news is that Facebook might be able to accomplish what many of us have failed to do, create a direct monetization stream from content through ad revenue sharing. This is the promise they are holding out to the mainstream news publishers like The New York Times. Will it trickle down to the little guys? Time will tell.

3. A shift in the inbound model

The third implication is something I predicted last year — a dramatic shift in the inbound marketing model.

Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring high-potential visitors in, rather than relying on sales people having to make cold calls to garner “outbound” leads. Inbound marketing content theoretically earns the attention of potential customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws viewers to your website like a magnet.

Links to our content on Facebook and other platforms have played a critical part in helping people become aware of our content and drawing them to our website or blog.

But with Instant Articles, Facebook becomes a dead-end. Our content goes in, but those inbound links don’t come back out to our websites where our lovely products, services, and calls-to-action reside.

Why? Because Facebook doesn’t want you to leave Facebook … and links make you leave Facebook.

Google and Twitter’s response to this is its new partnership around the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project which recently launched. It’s also rumored that LinkedIn is working on a version of this, as well. Everyone wants to keep readers on their site instead of yours.

4. The Content Shock wave

I recently attended a conference at Columbia University where a spokesperson from Facebook tried to defend Instant Articles by saying Facebook’s global reach would help publishers find a new audience, even new subscribers. But early experiments showed that this is not the case. Why would somebody subscribe to the The New York Times (or your blog) when they can simply see it conveniently for free on Facebook?

The term “Content Shock” has become a popular way to describe the changing economics of content marketing. When content floods a niche, it becomes more difficult, and more expensive, to compete. It occurs to me that while this is undeniably a mega-trend, it is also a repeating cycle.

Here is what will occur once Instant Articles becomes available to everyone.

The early adopters will see a huge boost in page views. Wow! This is amazing! Every content marketing blog will report that this is the new best practice. Get on board NOW!

And predictably, every company, agency, and mommy blogger will flood Facebook with their content to become part of the new gold rush.

As the supply of content goes up, and the “demand” of attention remains constant, the economics of Instant Articles will shift. Facebook will be forced to aggressively edit the Instant Articles stream because there will be too much content. Page views will drop, and the only way we’ll be able to get seen will be to pay Facebook to boost our Instant Articles. Sound familiar? Content Shock in action all over again.

And so the cycle continues.

Next steps: Adapt and adopt

Should you publish on Facebook? Of course. It’s time to build on “rented land” because we have no choice. It’s time to submit to Facebook because we would be foolish not to.

I was a guest on a podcast the other day and the interviewer asked me if there was any hope for small businesses in this intense content environment.

Of course there is. This competitive challenge is no different than what businesses have faced for centuries. Competition (in many forms) comes in and floods a market. To survive, you adapt, you adopt, you find a new way to maneuver. That’s what marketing is about, not sitting in front of a computer and posting the same links month after month.

Content marketing has been easy (maybe too easy) for a few years and the gravy days are over. Content marketing will still work, but it will work in new ways and it’s time to get to adjust. Great content is no longer the finish line, it’s the starting line.

Content Shock seems scary only because competing in a free market is scary. Succeeding in this new Facebook environment will require new strategies. Surviving in a competitive business world requires constant re-invention. So let’s get to it.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and lestudio1

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