Facebook has been testing a new feature that allows users to link their news subscriptions to their accounts so they don’t have to repeatedly log in while reading articles on Facebook.
The test, which has been ongoing since late last year, included publishers such as The Athletic, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Winnipeg Free Press. Notably, this feature supports article links to news outlets’ own websites, not just those hosted natively on Facebook’s app through Instant Articles. (Subscriptions on Instant Articles started in 2018 and expanded to all publishers last year.)
“The goal is to help publishers deepen their relationships with subscribers, and to provide a better news consumption experience on Facebook for those subscribers,” Facebook product marketing manager Stephen Largen wrote in a blog post. “One significant update is persistent login. Once implemented, linked subscribers will not meet paywalls when accessing articles from Facebook, and won’t be asked to sign-in repeatedly—a common pain point many subscribers and publishers face today.”
Largen wrote that early test results are “promising both for subscriber engagement and content distribution.” He said that participating publishers saw 111% more article clicks from subscribed users in the test group compared to subscribers not in the test group.
Facebook also said linked subscribers in the United States will see “more news stories from their publisher in their Facebook News experience,” and it’s working on additional subscriber features for publishers.
The way it works is a little convoluted right now. Participating news publishers have to upload a list of their subscribers, match those subscribers to the appropriate Facebook accounts, and then those subscribers will get a notification on Facebook that they can link their account. A Facebook spokesperson said that’s the only way to link these accounts right now, but the company is working on a way to allow subscribers to initiate the account-linking process through publisher websites.
The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website that debuted in 2016, is part of the test group. Charlotte Winthrop, vp of product marketing for The Athletic, called the system “convenient [and] easy” in Facebook’s post. The Athletic recently laid off 8% of its staff during a rocky year for sports due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nunzio Michael Lupo, The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s senior director for emerging products and experimentation, said “the number of … subscribers who have linked their accounts has grown significantly” since the publisher joined the beta program.
A Facebook spokesperson said that, in June, users who linked their subscriber accounts on Facebook viewed their news outlets’ content 117% more in Instant Articles and clicked through to their websites to read articles 111% more that before linking their accounts.
While very different, Twitter has recently said it is considering a subscription version of its own platform, though it’s unclear what that would look like. CEO Jack Dorsey hinted that a paid version of Twitter could grant users access to news websites through the app.