You want to explore uncharted territory, but you're also worried about sowing cash on unproven social media ground. Well, here's a way to play it safe: ease, ever so slowly, into Facebook. The facts: It's the largest social networking site in the world. In August '08, users spent an average of 19 minutes and 30 seconds there per visit (per Hitwise). And some reports say Facebook folks tend to be more truthful when filling out their profiles (a plus for marketers).

Facebook's Christopher Pan says the secret to its marketing model is this: it hinges on the idea that brand messages are more effective when they're from friends. As a result, Facebook's sponsored efforts are geared toward building both engagement and dialogue.

So, don't arrive with your hand out. Ann Smarty of Search Engine Journal tested two free promotional options, and describes how to use them optimally: To build critical mass for an event, create a Facebook Group. To form long-term relationships with users, start a Facebook Fan Page. (They also get indexed by search engines!) Facebook's internal metrics will track user activity, visits and demographic interest.

Ready to go for it? Standard Facebook ads enable you to target by demographic or profession. Or buy video placement! It encourages users to engage with your material, and they can also leave comments—for great feedback. Or make like Ben & Jerry's on Election Day: sponsor a free virtual gift that networkers can give to colleagues.

The Po!nt: Engage! With a little creativity, you can get your brand passed from hand to hand—er, page to page—through Facebook, while keeping the budget intact.

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