How Bild uses Facebook Instant Articles to drive subscriptions

Axel Springer’s Bild is looking to use Facebook Instant Articles to drive subscriptions.

The German publisher has reduced the number of steps readers have to take when signing up for a subscription through Instant Articles from nine to three.

The Axel Springer tabloid was among the first wave of publishers using Facebook Instant Articles when it launched in July 2015. Since then, it has dialed up and down the number of its stories it posts, from 20 percent of all published, to all of them, plus a brief stint of abstinence. Currently, all of Bild’s articles are formatted for IA.

“We have several requirements that are fundamental to working with third-party platforms,” said Stefan Betzold, managing director for Bild. “Partner platforms need to support our paid content initiatives and help us track new subscriptions through their platform.”

Bild Plus launched four years ago offering readers access to extra content. It now has 347,000 paying readers, subscriptions usually cost €9.99 ($10.58) a month for access to extra content. Although the majority of Bild’s digital revenue comes still from advertising, driven by its scale of 20 million monthly uniques.

“The best funnel for Bild Plus is our reach and our free articles,” said Betzold.

Facebook’s IA doesn’t have the ecosystem to support payments, unlike Apple News. At the beginning of this year, Bild began using the Instant Articles ad spots to promote two free weeks of Bild Plus, rolled out to a small sample of Instant Article readers. But sign-up was a lengthy process, which included confirming the reader wants the free trial, entering an email address, approving Bild could extract data from Facebook’s platform, then reentering details into Bild’s own platform, as well as agreeing to various privacy requirements.

“By that point, we had lost most of the interested users. Only a very small number would make it through the whole nine steps; it was a nightmare,” said Betzold. “And Facebook is always telling us about great user experience.”

Bild put its own developers on the case with Facebook. By February, it had reduced the process to three steps. Now, connecting with Facebook’s API, the reader’s email address is directly pushed to Bild’s database, pre-activating the reader’s account, and sending out an email from the publisher.

“It’s a first good step in getting [trial users] into our system, but when the two-week period is over, we need to use our CRM system to target them again,” he said. “Is it strong enough to attract to attract subscribers? We want to go further; we need deeper integration.” Now payment integration is the missing link. “Facebook needs to make this a standardized project so it can be used for any publisher.”

In March last year, Facebook introduced a similar, yet less complex, process testing email newsletter sign-ups with publishers like The New York Times and the Washington Post. To continue to have successful partnerships with publishers, Facebook needs to offer more seamless ways for them to connect with readers directly.

“Am I happy? On some requirements, yes. On others, no,” said Betzold. “But I’d rather work with Facebook to improve them. That’s a better position for me than reducing Instant Articles and saying that it’s just not working.”

Image: Courtesy of Bild, via Facebook.

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