In a move that could have a sizeable impact on travel agents, Facebook has announced a change to the algorithm governing its news feed and determining which posts, and from whom, appear higher in a user's feed.

The new algorithm could force agents to change what they post into content that drives engagement, as measured by comments from followers, shares and other factors.

At the same time, organizations that provide social media content to agents, such as hosts and consortia, will also have to review their offerings to ensure that posts drive the engagement Facebook is emphasizing.

Rosemarie Reed, vice president of marketing and sales for Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., said the change "has everybody kind of in an uproar right now, only because small-business owners who are not marketing experts and don't spend a ton of time trying to dissect the information that's being put out about the changes get nervous."

Change isn't new to Facebook. Reed pointed out that the company made "significant changes" to its news feed algorithm in 2014 to encourage businesses to pay for advertising. Businesses adjusted to that change and have harnessed the social media giant's advertising platform to reach new groups of potential clients.

"There's no reason to panic," Reed said. "If anything, yes, this will mean a change to how you should be interacting with people on social media. But the base concept of social media doesn't change. It's introduced as media that people are very social on -- it's exactly what it's called. It's what Facebook is trying to do more of."

In a blog post explaining the change, Facebook's Adam Mosseri, head of the news feed, said Facebook determines how high a post will appear in the news feed based on a variety of factors, including the number of users who react to the post, comment on it or share it.

"With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people," Mosseri said. "To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in the feed."

The posts selected will be ones that have discussions taking place in comments as well as ones a user might be inclined to react to and share. Additionally, posts by friends and family will be prioritized.

Mosseri said businesses and "publishers" (those who have made pages on Facebook) will likely see their reach decrease. How much it decreases will vary, but pages with posts that lack comments and reactions will be the most affected.

No one knows exactly how much change will take place on Facebook users' news feeds. But agents who use a personal Facebook page, as opposed to a business page, will feel fewer effects from the change, according to Abbey Ramage, senior director of brand marketing at Avoya Travel. She said most of Avoya's agents use a personal page.

"For the most part, this is actually probably going to be a welcomed and positive change for them," Ramage said. "It's very much focused on the relationship building. It's very much focused on having that engagement with their clients and creating those really close, personalized relationships, which is what agents are known for."

Agents could actually get a boost in users' news feeds if they're using personal Facebook pages, while larger brands with pages will be pushed farther down.

At Cruise Planners, many agents use a combination of personal Facebook profiles and business pages, according to Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner. Cruise Planners provides content for agents' business pages that they can customize.

Oftentimes, Garcia said, agents use their personal profile and business page in tandem, sharing posts from the business page on their personal page, which has been effective in driving engagement.

She also pointed out that travel itself is a high driver of engagement.

"We have it pretty easy, in that what we do is pretty cool and sexy," Garcia said. "If you go on a cruise, you post about it. Whatever you eat at whatever restaurant on the trip you're on, you post about it."

Other industries, such as insurance, don't lend themselves to engaging posts, "whereas travel, you just post the exterior of a ship and people get excited about it," Garcia said.

Going forward, it's clear that agents should focus on posting content that will drive comments and shares among their friends, Ramage said. For example, if an agent has had success with Facebook Live videos, post more of those.

Facebook's Mosseri pointed to live videos specifically as something that drives a lot of engagement; he said they typically get six times more interactions than prerecorded videos.

It is clear that passive content that isn't driving engagement will not appear high in a user's news feed, Reed said. That will force agents and social media providers to shift their strategy going forward as changes roll out.

"We want to evaluate, really, and test, because it's all about testing and finding out what works best with our users ... and then go from there," she said. "But short-term, we're going to direct our agents to leverage their personal Facebook profiles."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI