Facebook is the social media gorilla and it aims to stay that way. At its recent f8 conference, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced sweeping new changes that makes the social media network an even more powerful sharing platform.

Several other recently unveiled tweaks to Facebook can have a significant impact on brand marketers. For example, Facebook’s “newsfeed” is putting a new focus on relevance so users get just the information they want. And if the information is relevant, more users will see it, because relevant information will pass through the “privacy/friend” filter.

What started as a person-to-person social connection platform is now being dominated by businesses that use Facebook as a strategic brand engagement platform. A survey by Edison Research and Arbitron found that, of those social media users who follow a company or brand in social media, 80 percent of them prefer Facebook over Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media tools.

So it’s fair to ask the question: Will promoting your brand on Facebook boost it or bust it? The answer is not as obvious as you may think.

Facebook as a Brand Booster

On the “brand booster” side, commercial exposure on Facebook is likely to be a very good thing. With Facebook as part of a brand’s media mix, a brand marketer can connect and communicate with customers. If the brand marketer is willing to invest the necessary resources, like being sure that it is someone’s direct responsibility to maintain the Facebook page and respond to posted comments, then Facebook can have a positive impact on a brand’s image. Facebook is a good place to represent your brand voice, because it is a more personal, informal medium than traditional advertising.

Facebook can also be effective as a promotional tool. Increasingly, Facebook is used by brand marketers for special Facebook-only offers and contests. This technique can generate awareness, create buzz, and get participants who take advantage of offers and contests to tell their friends about them.

Facebook as a Brand Buster

It’s just as easy for Facebook to become a “brand buster,” however. In an August 18 article for Ad Age Digital, Michael Scissons, CEO of Syncapse, a company that makes social media management software, reported on the results of a study his company did. The study looked at 300 of the top brand pages on Facebook.

Over a period of one year (July 2010 – July 2011), these top brands actually saw a decline in engagement on their Facebook walls that was over 20 percent. Scissons said brand marketers were guilty of “dissing audiences with bad content, coupons, polls, contests, and boring filler.” He also noted that engagement declined significantly when brand marketers post to Facebook too often. While people remain engaged when a brand communicates up to 6 or 7 times a week, engagement falls off a cliff after that. The study found that some brands posted to their Facebook pages as often as 15 or 20 times a week.

Another brand buster could be embedded in that innocent “Like” button. It seems that all too many brand marketers use the Like button as a way of “buying” leads. Many times, you’ll notice that a brand marketer will give away something, or allow participation in a contest, only to visitors who “Like” their Facebook page. Granted, this is a legitimate way of measuring response, but it’s also a way to game the system and be able to brag about acquiring tens of thousands of fans when, in reality, they “Liked” a brand just because they wanted something for free.

What’s the Bottom Line?

You need to be smart about using Facebook commercially. Facebook requires authentic engagement in on-going dialogue with people, one at a time. Building a relationship with a customer is a gradual process. You must answer questions, respond to comments (both positive and negative), and not waste the customer’s time. General messages and promotional overkill don’t accomplish that. The smart brand marketer is not trying to buy a Facebook fan. Instead, the customer naturally becomes a fan, because there is something of value to be a fan of.

Used wisely, Facebook can boost your brand and engagement will skyrocket. But as the Syncapse study shows, even top brands abuse Facebook, and that only leads to one thing: their social media strategy is a bust.