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Saving with the social networks — Twitter and Facebook bring special deals to consumers

A couple of weeks ago, we featured the cautionary tale of the UK-headquartered stroller manufacturer Maclaren. Once regarded as one of the best buggy and baby carrier brands on the market, the firm ran foul of a customer uprising on Twitter and Facebook and has been scrambling to repair its reputation ever since.

The story highlighted how corporations are now almost required to be active social networkers if they want to retain any kind of control over their brand image and how their products or services are talked about in the blogosphere.

However, there is another kind of dialogue going on between the major retail brands and their customers. This dialogue is all about promoting the best deals and saving the most money!

The shopping deal site, Savings.com, estimates that almost half of the big retail chains are using social media this year to offer special holiday discounts and build customer loyalty. For example, the toy retailer, Toys "R" Us, used its Facebook page to offer 400,000 fans a sneak preview of its Black Friday deals, and its 19,000 Twitter followers got a comparable preview for Cyber Monday.

Best Buy has a similar strategy, using both Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with over 1 million customers. Not only do they use the social networks to let consumers  know about great deals, but also to keep them entertained and promote a feel-good outlook for the giant electronics retailer. (Best Buy tweeted the story of the couple that got married while waiting in line at their Allen Park, MI store prior to Black Friday!)

For consumers, it's easy to get in on the act. You just need to sign up for a Facebook or Twitter account, search for your favorite brand and become a fan (Facebook) or a follower (Twitter). The brand or store will then send you notices, updates or tweets about special deals, secret sales or one-time offers.

The speed with which consumers and retailers have embraced social networking has surprised even some industry veterans: "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."

For the retailers and brands, the social networks have become a double-edged sword. They provide brands with invaluable word-of-mouth marketing at a cost-per-touch that is just a fraction of their normal marketing spend.

However, the retailers had better deliver on their deals and promises. As the Maclaren executives will tell you, it doesn't take much to turn fans and followers into foes!

What has been your experience with the big brands and social networks? Are the special deals any different to what's available to the regular customer? Share your thoughts below!       

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