Navy Beach, a new Montauk restaurant and bar, had a Facebook page even before opening its doors for the summer season.
By this week, 747 users of the social networking site had signed up to receive updates and posts about the restaurant's reviews, upcoming events, photos and comments.
Co-owner Leyla Marchetto, 30, who says she has overheard some customers talking about having learned of the restaurant through Facebook, updates the page often from her BlackBerry.
"You have to keep updating and refreshing if you want to keep people's attention," she said.
Business interest in Facebook is surging along with the number of individuals on the vast social network. Its immediate impact on the bottom line may not be readily apparent, but adherents say it offers other obvious benefits.
A page that gets a lot of views shows up high in Google searches, quickly gets out the word about deals and discounts, allows an owner to reach out to a dissatisfied customer and spreads praise from a happy one, said Steve Haweeli, president of WordHampton Public Relations in East Hampton.
Haweeli, whose firm helped 50 East End businesses, including Navy Beach, set up and run their Facebook pages, said most small-business owners cannot afford the software that would help them trace Facebook use to bottom-line sales. But, he said, "The return that I see is real interaction with customers - and that is invaluable. "Many people find contacting a business via Facebook "less intimidating . . . than through [the company's] website," said Jaci Clement, executive director of the Fair Media Council in Bethpage. "It makes you feel like you're talking to a friend, not a corporate suit."
A successfully active and interactive page, however, is a step away from traditional ads that "push information to people" about a product or service, said Charles MacLeod, chief executive of the Smithtown advertising agency Sanna Matson MacLeod, which recently won an award for a Facebook page for Suffolk County's cultural events.
"Social media helps us pull people to our message," he said. "Once trust is established . . . then you can start marketing. Sometimes it's very direct, and sometimes more subtle."
It's important for advertisers using the social web "to understand what the marketplace really wants," said Peter Corbett, chief executive of iStrategyLabs, a marketing agency for Fortune 500 companies with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Potential customers in social media such as Facebook "want to pick your brain, get something free," he said. "And if you provide something valuable, they'll reward you."
Facebook is just one of a number of online and social media options businesses are using, ranging from the relatively old-fashioned e-mail to blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn.
But businesses need to beware of getting so immersed in those venues that they lose sight of their goal, said social media consultant and speaker David Mathison of New Hyde Park, who has a book and website called Be The Media.
"The big deals happen face-to-face or on the phone, not through Facebook, not through Twitter," he said. "I try to maximize the use of all these platforms always with a goal in mind: to get the reader to do something, to read your article, to read your book, to buy your service."