Status updating, friending, tweeting: For many, they are a way to keep in touch with friends and family. But social networking sites can also mean holiday savings. Almost half of the big retail chains are using social media this year to offer special holiday discounts and build customer loyalty, according to the Web site Savings.com
"I got all of my kids Christmas presents at 75 percent off and I knew exactly when the sale started because of Twitter," said Rachel Holland, a Texas mom with three children.
Holland is a deal-seeker and a Twitter fanatic who, she said, can't think of any Christmas gift for which she has paid full price.
"I feel great about the savings this Christmas," she said. "The holidays aren't a burden on it, and it's been wonderful."
Toys "R" Us recently released a sneak preview of its Black Friday deals on Facebook. Toys "R" Us followers were the first to learn about half-priced Barbie dolls, $4 DVD's for children and up to 80 percent off children's favorites such as Little Pet Shop toys.
Staples had a similar strategy. It offered $40 off Bluetooth headsets and $130 off certain GPS units.
If you sign up for free accounts on Facebook and Twitter, you can search and "friend" your favorite stores. Those stores will then send you tweets or notices about secret sales.
Members can also search for others who share savings information and find a stream of coupon codes, free shipping and member's only sale information delivered directly to your account.
There's many shoppers like Holland. Forty-five percent of Internet users in the United States will use social networks to research items, compare prices and look for offers this holiday season, according to a survey published by eMarketer.
"It's a community of people, it's a social network coming together to help each other save money," said Loren Bendele, CEO of Savings.com. "Building that social network around deals, discounts, coupons and promotions, seeing people take off and leveraging all the new media like Twitter, we believed it would happen, but we didn't know it would happen this quickly."
Facebook has a Black Friday info page with more than 220,000 friends. A deal site called "woot" has 1.5 million followers on Twitter.
In the spirit of social networking, Holland, a stay-at-home mother, has taken to sharing her best deals with others on her own blog, SurvivingtheStores.com, which she posts on Twitter and Facebook.
"In some ways, Twitter and Facebook are better than searching for a coupon code online," Holland said. "You know exactly when it comes out and you see the comments from others so you know if it works and when it expires."
Here are a few social network sites to help you find the best deals this holiday season.
@shopittome: Information for sales at retailers such as Saks, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Gap, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Victoria's Secret and others.
@toysrus: Information on toy deals.
@BFads: Tweets from Black Friday Ads, the official Black Friday Web site.
@shopcybermonday: The official Cyber Monday site, run by Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation.
@bestbuy: Follow deals on consumer electronics.
@grouponnyc: Groupon has sites in nearly every city for you to look for deals.
@techbargains: Follow deals on technology products.
@travelzoo: Search for travel deals.