By Josh Mabry, News Partnerships 

Facebook’s Local News Partnerships Manager, Josh Mabry, chatted with Steve Baron, Vice President/Head of Product, Tribune Broadcasting to discuss the company’s strategy with Instant Articles.

Why did you decide to start using Instant Articles on Facebook? What does the format do for your audience?
We are always looking to put our content in places users expect to see it with the fastest loading, best presentation possible. When Facebook announced a plan to help fix one of our long-standing problems (slow load times for articles tapped from the Facebook app) we were eager to give it a try. Our native apps for iOS and Android have always had a lightweight template and ad layout and we look at Instant Articles as a nice way to bring that experience to the web as well.

When did you first begin publishing stories as Instant Articles? How have you seen Instant Articles change over the last 6 months?
We launched Instant Articles as soon as they were fully available for general use in Spring of 2016. Initially we published all Tribune Media content as Instant Articles (over 30,000 links a month) but after a few months, realized we had to be smarter about what content was enabled as an Instant Article to bring revenue in line with mobile web. Mind you, this was over a year ago when Instant Articles was a very new product. After testing many variables we settled on only enabling Instant Articles for articles that are longer than a few paragraphs. We found that as the ‘sweet spot’ where the amount of ads in an Instant Article equaled or exceeded performance on mobile web. Our team built a ‘publishing checklist’ in our CMS to determine what posts would be eligible for publishing as Instant Articles based on six criteria – articles meeting all six criteria get an Instant Article created – those that don’t meet all six open in our responsive website when viewed from Facebook.

You’re utilizing the new ads in recirculation units within Instant Articles. What have you noticed since testing and implementing this feature?
Our revenue operations team says they are very happy with the performance of the new ad units below the content area where the related stories are, and the additional revenue from them brings mobile web and Instant Article revenue to at least an equal point.

How has adopting Instant Articles impacted your business?
Content producers across Tribune Media love Instant Articles as users of Facebook personally, so they like to see their work featured in them as well. The way our CMS is set up it kind of nags you to make your article ‘ perfect’ and earn a ‘6 out of 6’ in our publishing checklist, which in turn unlocks the Instant Article template for any given story. So, there’s actually a little game going on there. The publishing checklist requires an article to have a featured image, text, no extraneous code (div’s, etc) and a few other things – which quite honestly make both Instant Articles and regular web stories more readable and sharable.

Do you have any best practices you can share?
If and when Facebook offers any new features or tips on how to optimize – listen carefully and do your best to adopt them. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help either from peers in the industry or to take advantage of Facebook’s resources, like the News Media & Publishing Group and the Facebook Media Portal.

We know you’re utilizing the new Call-to-Action Units in Instant Articles, what kind of results are you seeing so far?
We launched the new call-to-action units as soon as they were announced; we started to turn them on for our main brand Pages right away. At the time, those brand Pages had around 10-million fans in total. Facebook Insights show we have added around 100,000 new fans via the ‘page like’ call-to-action unit inside of Instant Articles in the three months since then, so it definitely works. It’s interesting to note – most of these new fans are in the same geographic area as the brand, which is great because finding new fans inside of your own local market is challenging.

What best practices do you recommend:

  1. Only create Instant Articles for stories that are longer than a few paragraphs.
  2. Use the ‘auto-ad placement’ feature for all units except the last unit in your article, which you should hard-code in place.
  3. If you use DFP and have a local or national sales team of your own, set up DFP inside of Instant Articles.
  4. Take advantage of all the features Facebook offers; use the call-to-action units to gain new Facebook fans and to collect user email addresses.
  5. Integrate Google Analytics, Chartbeat, and other tools into your Instant Articles.

What else would you encourage local publishers to think about as they start using Instant Articles?
Don’t treat it as an all-or-nothing approach, but at the same time don’t try to hand pick stories you think will perform well as Instant Articles. Spend time testing, do the math, and come up with something that works for your business and your readers.