Do Instant Articles Get More Engagement on Facebook? A Quick Comparison

Varpu Rantala
Feb 20, 2018 · 5 min read
Instant Articles’ thunderbolt logo on mobile

Instant Articles are better in two ways: they open quicker and look better. They are also becoming more common. But do Instant Articles get more attention from the audience?

The answer is no, for Facebook posts. This may be the reason why some high profile publishers are abandoning Instant Articles, as reported recently by Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Regular links do equally well, so it may not be worth the hassle.

But be aware that Instant Articles do get shared across Facebook more than they get reacted in Facebook fans’ news feed. They are a bit more likely to pick up Web Shares, and this may be helpful when Facebook cuts down media pages’ reach.

Data:

Instant articles’ metrics are not directly available from the public Facebook API, so I made a small sample of six big publishers who publish Instant Articles frequently. I looked up their data from EzyInsights database and labelled manually the articles that were Instant. Then I compared their engagement (reactions, shares and comments) against non-Instant content they published in 24 hours time.

Facebook Pages:

  • Al Jazeera English
  • Bored Panda
  • BuzzFeed
  • BuzzFeed News
  • Epoch Times Paris
  • WIRED

These pages made 190 Facebook posts altogether on 19. December 2017, when the data was collected. Most of them were Instant Articles (114 Instant Articles vs. 76 other posts).

Most Publishers Favoured Instant Articles…

60% of all analysed posts were Instant Articles.

All publishers except Bored Panda and WIRED published more Instant Articles than other articles. BuzzFeed News published mostly Instant Articles.

¨

…So Total Engagement for Instant Articles is Bigger

There are more Instant Articles, so their share of engagement is bigger.

While Instant Articles Won’t Beat Photos and Videos…

An Instant Article post got 4.3K engagements on the average, while other posts got 5.2K. Here “other posts” include all posts — not only links, but also photos and videos that are shared on Facebook. Instant Articles are always Link posts.

It is customary that photos and videos do better than link content. But photos and videos (as defined by Facebook) do not contain a link to publishers’ website. This is why link content is often more interesting for publishers — it is more directly connected to increase in Web Traffic. (Note that Facebook engagement in general correlates with web traffic).

…Instant Articles Are Equally Good For Link Content

When photo and video posts are excluded, we see that nearly 80% of all link posts in the sample posts were Instant Articles. In other words, when these publishers do not post photos or videos, they mostly post Instant Articles.

Engagement has the same ratio as the post count: nearly 80% of engagement comes from Instant Articles. This means that on the average, Instant Articles performed equally well in comparison to regular links.

Engagement For Instant Articles Comes Mostly From Web Shares…

Web Shares mean shares of publishers’ articles across Facebook by anybody.

Web Shares tend to be a bit more higher than Facebook Post engagement. This will be increasingly important for publishers in the future, because Facebook Newsfeed Change cuts Pages’ reach.

Most of the engagement for Instant articles comes from Web Shares. Remember that Instant Articles are always links, while videos and photos are only shared on the Facebook Page (without link) and cannot have Web Shares.

Instant Articles get shared much more often than they get reacted on in the News Feed. Almost 80% of engagement on Instant Articles is based on Web Shares, whereas for other types of content, the ratio is vice versa (naturally, because the data contains also photos and videos).

…And Instant Articles Work Little Bit Better for Web Shares Than Normal Links

Average regular link had ca 3.5K Web Shares, while Instant Article had ca 3.6K Web Shares.

What Does This Mean?

  • Instant Articles work equally well as other Link content, when they are posted on Facebook.
  • Photos and videos tend to beat link content, however — this is typical for visual content. This means photos and videos beat instant articles that are always links.
  • Instant Articles pick up engagement best when they are shared from the publishers’ page to Facebook by anyone (Web Shares).

In February 2018, Tow Center for Digital Journalism showed that several high profile publishers are giving up Instant Articles. Soon after, BuzzFeed published their analysis claiming that Instant Articles have been picked up by controversial publishers and spammers. The latter may not be an issue after all, because Instant Articles do not necessarily improve stories’ reach.

These analyses on small samples are limited (also Tow Research Centre resorted to an one-day sample of handpicked publishers), but they give some direction as to explaining why some publishers may be giving up Instant Articles — they are not so much more effective than regular articles.

Instant Articles may be worth trying out, however. They may be shared more than regular links. Also, publishers may not be fully aware how much of their content is shared on Facebook by regular people (Web Shares), because this data is not always available. And Instant Articles do look better.

Varpu Rantala

Written by

Researcher, PhD in Media & Comms based in Helsinki, Finland

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