Brian Solis is the author of the new book, The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

In the digital space, attention is a currency. We earn it. We spend it. We don’t think about it as a precious or earned commodity though. We in many ways either take it for granted or assume we’re deserving of it based on what we do, what we offer, or where we’re located. Such is true for social media.

Customers are captivated by their social networks. With each day that passes, people are increasingly spending their online time in the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. On the contrary, your website is not as interesting to them as you might think. Instead, they expect the businesses that they support to develop presences in their favorite social networks even if that means you have to invest in your website and Facebook for example.

Why on earth would you do such a thing?

To the ever-growing set of connected consumers, social networks, in particular Facebook, are the new consumer internet. It is where their contacts share what’s happening or what’s important to them. It’s where people learn from interaction with one another. News breaks here before it breaks on TV or leading news sites. And, these networks are home to precious memories and experiences.

According to Pingdom, a service that tracks uptime of online properties, with over 800 million users, Facebook is now the size of the entire Internet in 2004. And, as Nielsen recently published in its 2011 State of Social Media report, Facebook accounts for the majority of total time spent online at 53.5%. That means that out of all the places consumers visit online, Facebook accounts for more than half of their overall time spent on the entire Web. A strong and growing subset of your customers are connected in Facebook and expect your business to connect as well. They interact online in different ways than the customer you’re used to. This only presents new opportunities for you.

If your website is your home base on the web, think about Facebook as your website for social media. We’ll look at Twitter and Youtube in other posts, but for the time being, I’d like to focus your attention on Facebook. Aside from the fact that Facebook is home to over 800 million users, many of whom are in your neighborhood, the Facebook platform provides for incredible personalization and customization. Much like your website today, Facebook also offers the ability to tell your story, showcase products and services, offer paths for customer resolution or sales contact, and host special promotions or the ability to purchase via e-commerce.

In addition to an online presence in a thriving community, Facebook’s true value lies in its social effect. Customers are connected to one another and it’s making your world a much smaller place. The degrees between people grow closer together with each new connection they make. As one person connects with your Facebook brand page or the content you share, it also sends a signal to those people that they’re connected to. If you design an engagement program that not only triggers sharing and engagement, but also intrigues those who come across status updates related to your business, you’ll naturally attract a growing number of prospects.

Businesses are developing online presences in Facebook that replicate or improve upon the experiences delivered by traditional websites. The common thread across the board is that each feature custom tabs to tell a more engaging story, answer customer questions and also steer experiences and desirable outcomes. To excel in Facebook and also connect with your social customer, here are some of the ways to think about how Facebook can become your home page for social media:

1) Customizable Platform – Facebook allows businesses to develop custom pages using iFrames and standard HTML code. To put this feature into context, think about Facebook tabs much in the same way you look at pages on websites. You have a home page and sub pages. Facebook offers the ability to present a home or landing page, supporting pages and also other Facebook integrated pages such as the Wall, photos, and events.

2) Apps – Apps can provide fully engaging or immersive experiences. Think about them as you do apps on the iPhone or Android marketplace. Apps deliver anything you or your development team can imagine without forcing customers to leave Facebook. Apps can be used for contests, encapsulated experiences online and on mobile devices (think games or custom experiences within Facebook such as product builders or virtual mirrors.)

While not a small business, Walmart created a Crowdsaver app, which is a prime example of what’s possible when you can trigger the social effect. The discount retailer offered a Groupon-like offer through its Facebook page where consumers could buy a 42-inch plasma TV for $398. In order to unlock the deal, 5,000 people had to “Like” the offer and once that number was hit, the TV would go on sale at that price. The true value for Walmart was in the social effect. The average number of connects an everyday person has in Facebook is 130. Let’s do the math…5,000 Likes x 130 = 650,000 potential impressions.

3) Customer Engagement Platforms – Service providers such as Fangager are enabling businesses to host customers on Facebook brand pages and entertain them through compelling games, increase affinity through points or loyalty programs, and reward customers through engaging feedback programs.

4) F-Commerce – If you sell products or services online through an existing e-commerce strategy, consider also creating a store on Facebook. Similar to building custom tabs, you can deploy a simplified store specific to the needs of your Facebook customers. Many businesses replicate their current e-commerce platforms for Facebook. Others wonder why they should rebuild what already works. If it’s one thing you learn about connected customers in Facebook, they don’t want to leave their precious network. And, they resist any attempt to send them from an interactive environment where they control their experience to a general e-commerce site where they’re left to shop alone.

5) Facebook Connect – If you must send customers away from your Facebook page to your website, ensure that you integrate Facebook Connect. Introducing Connect helps you improve engagement and reach in several ways. Most importantly, visitors can interact with content on your site. As they do so, they’re sending updates back to Facebook for their friends to see and respond. Think about how you will introduce opportunities for Likes, comments, and sharing on your site…and make it worthy of engagement.  And, the more you learn about individual preferences based on their Facebook profile, the more you can personalize what they see on your website and in the custom pages you create in Facebook.