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“111% more article clicks”: How Facebook’s new feature can help publishers build engagement

Facebook is testing a new feature that allows paying news subscribers to link their Facebook accounts to their subscriptions. Once they have done that, such users will not be required to log in to their news subscription account in order to view articles from those publishers. 

Source: Facebook

The feature is intended to create a better news consumption experience on the platform as readers won’t have to login to access paywalled articles from publishers they are already subscribed to.

Publishers in all world regions are building sustainable, enduring relationships with loyal readers. Through account linking, we hope that Facebook can be a powerful extension of those efforts, helping news organizations drive deeper subscriber engagement and bring more paying readers to their high-quality journalism, which is the foundation of keeping communities informed and connected.

David Grant, Program Manager, Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator program

“Translate to greater retention and customer satisfaction”

The company said that once a subscriber links their accounts, it will show them more content from that specific publisher. And that it’s also “developing and [plans] to introduce additional subscriber experiences over time.” 

Facebook has been testing the feature with a small group of publishers, and said that it shows potential for subscriber engagement and content distribution. It found that users who linked their accounts made an average of 111% more article clicks compared to those who weren’t part of the test group. Also publishers’ Facebook followers jumped from 34% to more than 97% among subscribers who had linked their accounts.

Publishers already testing this feature include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Athletic and the Winnipeg Free Press. “People have account and password fatigue and so it is not surprising that one of our most common reader complaints is that they have to login too often, and of course when it happens they do not remember their username, or password,” said Christian Panson, VP of digital at Winnipeg Free Press.

Once a reader has linked their subscription, any visit to us from Facebook delivers a seamless and frictionless experience directly to the content they expect. We expect that this will help us to build longer and more frequent engagement with our customers, which will translate to greater retention and customer satisfaction, and maybe a bit less customer support.

Christian Panson, VP of digital at Winnipeg Free Press

“Account linking with Facebook has offered a convenient, easy way for The Athletic’s subscribers to access our in-depth storytelling while they are spending time on their favorite social media platform,” added Charlotte Winthrop, VP of Product Marketing, The Athletic. “This enhances the experience for our subscribers, keeping them engaged with The Athletic.”

“The company has come a long way”

This appears to be a more positive move from Facebook vis-à-vis publishers with whom it has had a rocky history. 

It’s also in line with the company’s recent efforts to push news on its platform and compensate publishers. The social media giant launched a dedicated news section in the US last year featuring content from a wide range of publishers.

It began with over 200 general news publishers and thousands of local and regional publications in the US. They included The Wall Street Journal, Time, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Bloomberg, Fox Business, Business Insider, NPR, BuzzFeed and the LA Times. The company also said that it would be paying publishers (some in millions of dollars) for making their journalism available to Facebook.

More recently Axios reported that the company is planning to accelerate the launch of Facebook News in multiple countries, including the UK, Germany, France, India and Brazil, within the next 6-12 months.

The News tab expansion is the latest effort by Facebook to pay news organizations for their work. The company has come a long way from its initial stance of refusing to pay publishers or hire human editors just two years ago.

Sara Fischer, Reporter, Axios

“Unprecedented increase in the consumption of news articles”

These developments are important for publishers as Facebook continues to be a valuable source of traffic. News consumption on social media ramped up during the pandemic with Facebook in the lead. The company noted “unprecedented increase in the consumption of news articles” early on in the crisis. 

Source: Social Media Today

More than half the articles being consumed on Facebook in the US at that time were related to the coronavirus, and 90% of the clicks to such content came from “Power News Consumers” and “Power News Discussers,” according to an internal report. This shows that avid news consumers do rely on Facebook for their news updates even for serious and complex issues. 

So the company allowing users to link their news subscriptions to facilitate a seamless consumption experience on Facebook can help publishers engage them meaningfully on the platform. 

The pandemic has driven unprecedented levels of traffic to digital media and also led to remarkable growth in subscriptions. Now publishers are focusing on retaining the new subscribers. Giving them more ways to consume content (on an oft-used platform) can turn out to be a powerful strategy. 

When news organizations rely on outside platforms for distribution, one of the big issues is who owns the subscriber. So Facebook’s approach here may be more acceptable to publishers, as it still requires readers to subscribe to a given publication (rather than subscribing through Facebook itself).

Anthony Ha, Senior Writer, TechCrunch