What’s the biggest thing to happen to the world of advertising and marketing in more than a decade? According to USA Today, a growing number of companies are spreading the word about their business these days through Facebook. Experts say it’s easy to understand why: Facebook is the largest online social network, with more than 250 million members! Companies know they have the potential to reach every single one of those users for free. That’s because Facebook offers a feature called “Pages,” where any business, organization or public figure can set up a profile, and post updates about their services, at no charge. It’s sort of like creating a flyer that you’d send through the mail.

Officials say there are currently more than 300,000 businesses using Facebook “pages,” and one of the best things about the service is that it gives companies a chance to create a strong sense of community among their most loyal customers. For example: Pizza Hut uses Facebook to keep in touch with their one million online fans. A spokesman admits Facebook is more effective than Pizza Hut’s own Website, because it lets the company reach out to pizza lovers directly. What’s more, customers can log on and share instant feedback about a new menu item or a sale,and that helps generate more word-of-mouth, at no extra charge. In Pizza Hut’s case, they recently posted an update about their new iPhone app, and 800 people responded to it in a day!

Of course, companies also have the option of buying traditional ads on Facebook. Unlike other Websites, experts say you can target your ads better on Facebook than anywhere else! That’s because the site offers tools that allow companies to track a customer’s age, where they live, and what their interests are. That means that if you own a bookstore in Boston, and you want to spread the word about a new Stephen King novel, you can buy an ad that will only reach book lovers in Boston who like horror stories. Experts say that kind of targeting is worth “gold” to advertisers. Thanks to Facebook, these days it’s helping many companies survive the economic downturn.