A new study by Buzzsumo reports that Facebook engagement for brands and publishers continues to decline, dropping 20% so far this year. The usual reasons are cited as reasons contributing to this continued trend, including the fact that there are more posts vying for attention and changes to the News Feed algorithm.

The one kind of post that continues to perform better than others is video, a format Facebook has encouraged more brands and publishers to embrace in the last couple years and which has been given preferential treatment in the News Feed. It’s a big part of the “pivot to video” trend many publishers have joined in the last year or so.

What should be disconcerting to content marketing professionals about this decline is that it comes at a time when promotional ad budgets on Facebook meant to increase reach and combat organic News Feed suppression are still rising. So publishers are spending more money on ads, but that’s not even stopping the organic bleeding, just slowing it somewhat. Now they’ll bleed out in 12 months, not seven, which isn’t much of an improvement.

Also keep in mind that those publishers who are spending money on Facebook ads to increase reach are doing so in the hopes that people will click through to the site/story, which will help their own ad revenue. That means publishers are in the following situation:

  • Brands are advertising on Facebook instead of on media sites because the reach is better.
  • Facebook has suppressed the organic reach of publishers, resulting in less engagement and fewer click-throughs.
  • Publishers are spending their own advertising budgets on Facebook ads to increase reach and counter that suppression.
  • Publishers are still seeing engagement and reach drop.

The only winner here is Facebook, who gets advertising money from both brands and publishers.

It can’t be sustainable for publishers to keep spending money on Facebook ads when the ROI of those ads continues to fall. Then again, with News Feed throttling resulting in less organic exposure, it would seem to be unsustainable to keep using Facebook as a distribution platform at all.

At some point there’s going to be a reckoning. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I’m fairly certain it won’t be pretty. Either publishers will stand up to Facebook in a meaningful way, painting the company as not only a threat to the press but to a thriving democracy or Facebook will succeed in killing independent media companies and become the de facto version of the internet it’s long wanted to be.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.