Two new features let publishers interact with readers through Facebook Instant Articles

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Facebook’s relationship with the news industry has been, shall we say, a little one-sided. While the news industry depends on the platform for its growth and distribution, Facebook itself has sometimes downplayed the outsized role it plays in the news industry.

On Friday, though, Facebook announced some new additions to Instant Articles that were developed after direct feedback from publishers: the email sign-up feature, for example, will let readers share their email addresses from within Instant Articles. Similarly, publishers will now be able to offer readers the option to like their pages.

Josh Roberts, a Facebook product manager, wrote in a blog post that the new features are a result of ongoing feedback from news organizations, many of which are looking to “extend the business value of Instant Articles. Across the board, publishers want to have more direct lines of communication with their readers and drive the conversions that matter to their business,” he wrote.

Roberts wrote that Facebook has other similar projects in mind, such as a feature that would let news organizations offer free subscription trials through Instant Articles and one that would drive users to download publishers’ mobile apps.

Facebook’s status as a middleman in publishers’ relationships has been an enduring sticking point over the years. While few publishers have shunned the Facebook traffic referral firehose outright, discontentment over how the company has handled some components of Instant Articles has made some news organizations less gung-ho about publishing on Facebook itself. The New York Times, for instance, has stopped using Instant Articles.

Facebook highlighted some success stories in its Friday blog post. Slate, for example, said that the call-to-action feature helped boost its newsletter signups by 41 percent in two months. The Huffington Post said Instant Articles has become “one of our highest performing acquisition channels for driving email newsletter subscribers” thanks to the feature.

The additions are a product of the ongoing Facebook Journalism Project, which the company announced in January to “establish stronger ties between Facebook and the news industry.” Core to the initiative was the idea that Facebook would directly collaborate with publishers on new news products such as the one Facebook wrote about today.

In other words, while the new features are compelling in their own right, they also serve as vital PR for Facebook’s publishing outreach overall. Facebook’s message: “We’re listening.”

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