ImageA few months ago I was having lunch with two friends, discussing the changing nature of social media. In particular, we talked about which content drives more engagement today.

One of the friends, Sierra Cook of Anheuser-Busch, made an offhand comment about the popularity of “beer porn” on Bud Light Platinum’s Facebook page, which piqued my curiosity. I asked what that meant and she said it was just pictures of beer, adding that fans seem to like simple images more than other posts.

I was perplexed, but then I thought about content I periodically post on the American Mustache Institute‘s Facebook page (a deep honor). Regardless of how interesting a posted link or promotion might be, the most popular tend to be either the “Mustached American of the Day,” or kids wearing fake mustaches — just photos of people with lower nose forestry units.

But that can’t be the case for commercial brands, can it? Well, yes, actually.

“We’re always looking to create engaging, sharable content on Facebook," Cook told me. “With Bud Light Platinum, we’ve found that close-up beer shots that capture the brand personality consistently perform 50-100 percent better than other posts.”

Those, my friends, are serious metrics, and it’s not just in the beer space.

“We’re seeing a simplification in the nature of social content that really resonates with brand advocates and fans of our channels,” said Doug Terfehr, global director of public relations for Pizza Hut. "Posting a link tends to not gain as much traction as, say, a great looking slice of pizza with cheese pulling away from the pie. After all, that’s why people for the most part are engaged with us. They love our product.”

In recent years, smart digital marketers have begun to understand that social media is actually a content play – content that is relevant, in tune with audiences, and timely (as real-time marketing has become essential). But the accepted notion of content, at least since roughly 2008 or so, has typically been elaborately crafted marketing programs that are perhaps based within a whiz-bang Facebook app and designed to engage consumers at a deeper level by ultimately offering them something. The thing is, these cost money, ranging from $5,000 – $150,000 to build, depending on the bells and whistles, as well as whatever the ultimate promotion may be.

So that begs the question:  Does the content of today really need to be that expensive? Is “porn” enough? Does there need to be a beer cruise if you get as many likes, comments or shares from a picture? If Bud Light Platinum is sharing a simple picture of a beer and it’s then getting shared or liked 50-100 percent better than a link to a promotion, I’d suggest we consider Leonardo da Vinci, who said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” when thinking about pleasing our social media audience.

Online customization retailer CafePress is in a different position than a beer brand, as the company can use the Pinterest model – the culture of which, I’d suggest, is driving this change in social engagement.

“We see a lot of response to the designs alone because posting them comes across as showing art, not asking people to buy something,” said CafePress VP of Digital Strategy Jason Falls. “But when the right design is on the right product, the engagement can be not only more powerful, but also quite successful in terms of conversion. You wouldn’t think someone would see flip-flops in their Facebook stream and want to buy them. But you put Snoopy on flip flops and people go bananas.”

The nature of media and consumer information gathering changed because smart people led horses to water who began ravenously drinking from it. Therefore, if we are to follow the latest trend, we need to consider where consumers are seemingly driving – and that is the notion that simplicity sells.

Does that mean kill the Facebook app or $10,000 video? Is social media “porn” the new content model? No, not always. But more often than not, brands should think twice about the hefty investment, engage more simplistically, and understand that the right image at the right time can quite possibly deliver the necessary results.