Companies around the world are expected to spend 17 per cent more to advertise on social networking sites this year than they did in 2008.

According to research from eMarketer, some $2 billion (£1.38 billion) was spent globally on internet marketing for sites like Facebook and MySpace last year.

This figure is likely to rise to $2.35 billion this year as companies take advantage of the growing popularity of such websites, it calculates.

And eMarketer predicts that over the coming years, online social network advertising spend will continue to grow, reaching $3.49 billion by 2013.

"Social network usage is growing substantially in many world regions, in several cases surpassing the usage levels seen in the US," said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer.

Meanwhile, a new survey by O2 has revealed that over 6,000 small firms across the UK are using micro-blogging website Twitter every day to market themselves and keep in touch with their customers.

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