Why aren’t more sports teams using Facebook instant articles?

This is a guest post by Danis Roberts, Digital Content Manager at Harlequins.

When scrolling through Facebook on your phone have you started to see that small lighting bolt icon appear below news stories? Have you noticed the far better reading experience that you get when you click those links? That’s Facebook’s Instant Articles.

Instant Articles is a feature that delivers an incredibly quick and immersive in-app reading experience for people accessing articles through the Facebook mobile app.

Launched in beta in May 2015 it is built from the same technology used to display photo and video in-app to create a striking, optimised experience for the user. One that can incorporate copy alongside high-res imagery, video and even 360°, all with a loading time between 0-300 milliseconds.

A few key figures:

– They load 10x faster than standard mobile web articles
– They are clicked on 20% more often than non-Instant Article links
– 70% of users are less likely to abandon the article

All of which add up to better usability, higher engagement rates, superior reach and, happy followers!

But astonishingly many sports teams are yet to take the leap. Only three teams in the Premier League have incorporated it into their digital strategy (Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham). In rugby it is only Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership.

Even at the highest-level, England’s national football, rugby and cricket teams are still yet to adapt, leaving more than 11 million followers with a sub-par experience.

The question is why? Is it a concern over directing more traffic away from their site and onto Facebook’s app?

If so, the user experience and share-ability of the articles more than make up for this. Plus, once users are on the page it is very simple to scroll through latest/similar articles to keep the consumer engaged for longer.

Is it a concern over analytics and losing page views?

Instant Article insights can be embedded straight into Google Analytics (or just review in Facebook directly, if you prefer) so this should only increase the stats, not decrease them.

Is it wariness about driving people away from a site, which the owners are trying monetise?

If so, Facebook now also allows you to monetize Instant Articles in a number of ways:

Direct-sold ads – video, animated and banner ads with publishers keeping 100% of revenue from ads they sell themselves
Audience Network – ad space sold on your behalf
Branded Content – visibility for third-party products or sponsors
Call-to-Action Units – an opportunity to drive data collection or page likes for your brand

These can be placed every 250 words if you choose to use them. And while they are optional, at the very least publishers may as well include the call-to-action units to promote their own page.

Conclusion

I really believe clubs are missing a trick by not utilising Instant Articles. As competitors and rivals start to use them, sports teams who are slower to adapt will fall further behind as supporters become familiar with them and their expectations rise. On a personal level I have already stopped clicking on many non-Instant Articles due to a mix of impatience and bad user experience.

Sports teams should consider upgrading over the offseason while they have a bit more time!

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