Facbook's algorithm will lead to more meaningless cute animal pictures

One of my favourite pages on Facebook is the Condescending Corporate Brand Page, which reposts and ridicules the slightly more cringeworthy attempts by brands to generate engagement among their followers. It's a good page for any social media manager to follow, as it provides a nice little reality check.

While it's fun to poke fun at a brand page that asks a question of "What do you prefer, autumn leaves or puppies?" on a page that has nothing to do with leaves or puppies, it also highlights a frustrating and slightly concerning trend with Facebook pages.

Facebook's new algorithm is currently causing a lot of consternation among companies with Facebook presences and social media alike. Reach of posts on Facebook, as well as referrals, have dropped by around 50% for some pages.

The principle behind delivering more targeted news to relevant people is, in theory, sound. In practice, it feels an awful lot if Facebook are pushing companies, especially smaller ones, into paying to promote their status to a wider audience, even if that may not necessarily be the case. In trying to solve one problem regarding users, Facebook feel like they've swung too much in the other direction and have created another potentially bigger ones for brands.

The obvious answer for those who don't want to pay is to try and create posts with more engaging posts - after all, the more interactions a post receives, the greater its virality (Facebook word choice, not mine) and the better chance it has of being seen by a wider audience. This, in theory, means brands need to work harder in attracting engagement.

Robin Grant from We Are Social says in his analysis: "Facebook’s changes mean brands need to shift to creating social content that is “as engaging as the posts you see from friends and family” and supplement this with a sophisticated paid promotion strategy."

This may be true, to an extent, but it also overlooks the very quick, easy way for a site to boost engagement. Namely the incongruous, often irrelevant pictures scattered throughout brand pages. The new Facebook news feed (especially on mobile) gives a lot of weight to images and, as most pages managers can tell you, even with a quick glance at their Insights, is that image posts tend to do a lot better than other content.

Links, video, status updates and the rest rarely attract as many likes as a picture. No matter how irrelevant that picture may be. And that's the worry. That in an effort to go "Look boss, we've got 200 likes per post" on Facebook, brands are just posting Likebait rather than anything meaningfully engaging. Need to boost your engagement? Just post a cute animal picture with no relevance to your brand.

Incidentally, if you want a good example of posting a cute animal picture done well, this post from Radio 4 is funny, clever, personable and relevant (even if most people end up talking about the rug in the background).

In a roundabout way you could argue that posts that just act as Likebait (I'm sorry, I know that's a wanky word) do have an overall effect of boosting awareness, likes and a greater chance of more relevant content being seen. But equally Robin Grant isn't wrong when he says that brands have to work harder to produce more engaging posts on Facebook.

If you're a small business with a previously successful Facebook page suddenly struggling to keep up the same level of engagement and referrals because of the changes then it's a lot of hard work. I've heard plenty of rumbling behind the scenes from bigger brands and well-respected PR / marketing / social media professionals who are giving Facebook a long hard look at the moment given the changes. They too will have to work harder.

A lot of it comes from aims and strategy. If a company if serious about using Facebook as the cornerstone of their social strategy and has a drawn out plan and realistic KPIs then I suspect they'll adapt and find a way.

Others may decide - or get pressure from above - that it's easier to chase Likes with a few lazy pictures rather than working harder to really promote deeper engagement and brand awareness. And that really won't do anybody any favours in the long run.