By Alicja Gulajski

With more than 24 million active users, and over 100,000 new registrations per day since Jan. 2007, Facebook is a prime example of a social media network that is changing the way people communicate. The sooner a company realizes the marketing potential of social media networks the sooner it will be able to identify and speak to millions of untapped customers in specific target markets.

Mark Zuckerberg and co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Huges first created Facebook in February 2004 from their Harvard dorm room as an interactive student directory containing each student’s class schedule and social network. It quickly grew to include Stanford, Columbia and Yale University. In May 2005, with $12.7 million in venture capital from Accel Partners, Facebook grew to support more than 800 college networks. After expanding to North American high schools, followed by international school and work networks, Facebook opened registration to anyone in September 2006.

A study done by JupiterResearch shows that 48 percent of brand marketers plan to use social marketing tactics in the next year, compared to 38 percent who did so last year. The wider adoption of social media tactics results in increased competition for the attention of social network users. For that reason, successful social media marketing campaigns must target specific interests and activities to attract the community of users most likely to be interested in their product or service.

Here are a couple of Facebook marketing opportunities you might be able to exploit:

1. At the Facebook f8 Event on May 24, 2007, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, announced the launch of a new development platform to allow any developer in the world to create an application, integrate it into Facebook, and gain instant access to 24 million-plus users. This new open-platform evolution is the next step in the world of social media networks, replacing the proprietary approaches of communities like My Space.

One company that jumped on this opportunity is bOK, a company started by a group of entrepreneurs and students from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and New York. bOK was created to eliminate ridiculous cell phone charges for long distance calls and for exceeding your daytime minutes allowance. bOK takes advantage of the new Facebook development platform by creating an application that allows users to make long distance calls for free using Facebook. Currently, hundreds of users have added the application to their Facebook account.

2. June 1st, 2007, Facebook Polls was launched. This product creates great value for marketers: this tool can be used to create brand awareness and gather critical information about your brand from Facebook community members.

Facebook Poll users create a question (with up to 5 answer choices) and are able to target the poll based on age, sex, location and even profile keywords. There is an initial $5 insertion fee, but the poll creator chooses the bid amount - the amount the user is willing to pay per response. Depending on the bid, and the anticipated results, Facebook estimates the wait time before results are received. Currently bids range from $.10 to $1.00 per response, according to TechCrunch.

Social media is not a fad - it’s a new era of communication. Social media marketing can help you reach your target market in ways you haven’t been able to in the past. Facebook’s development platform and polls point the way. How will your company take advantage of the new opportunities of social media networks?

(Alicja Gulajski is a Social Media Intern with market2world communications inc., Canada's Web 2.0 tech product launch and public relations agency.)