5 Ways to Use Social Media for Holiday Shopping

Shopping

The gist: Social media can save you money, time and frustration during this year’s holiday shopping.

Social media strives for total integration into every facet of modern life, including how you do your holiday shopping. While slightly terrifying to consider the potential implications of such a goal, let’s not get caught up in Big Brother paranoia. No matter what Uncle Scrooge says, social media is an industry of convenience and connectivity, and its reach has extended into the realm of retail. Here are a few strategies for making your holiday shopping a little easier, a little cheaper and a little less like purgatory.

1. Deliver Amazon gift cards on your friend’s Facebook wall

First off, let’s get one thing straight: Internet gift exchanges are no substitute for the tear and crinkle of wrapping paper or the warm hug swapping of face-to-face, sweater-to-sweater holiday gatherings. We’re not proposing you send everyone on your list a digital gift card and call it a holiday. But in supplementation to or in unfortunate lieu of proper human interaction, digital gift cards offer a viable option.

Here’s how it works. Start by linking your Amazon account to your Facebook account. Amazon will want access to a fair chunk of your Facebook information but promises not to share account information or purchase history with Facebook. Nor will Amazon attempt to contact your Facebook friends. It’s not a big deal. Really. After the accounts are linked, you can customize a gift card by choosing a design and writing an optional message. You can schedule when you would like the card delivered up to a year in advance. Upon delivery, the gift card will appear on your friend’s wall. Only the recipient will be able to see the amount and claim code, and you can choose whether your personal message is public or private.

It’s a great gift when distance inhibits a more satisfactory celebration or if you’re buying for a Kindler. You can’t to tie a bow to an eBook, so an Amazon gift card is probably your best bet for gifting digital information.

2. Join a social shopping site or two

Stepping into a mammoth mall or diving into the vast and mysterious depths of cyber shopping can be a little overwhelming. It’s you, the solitary consumer, the lone gunslinger, against them, the many manifold retailers, the innumerable hordes of money-snatchers. Where do you begin? Which products can you trust? Which store houses your holiday holy grail?

Social shopping sites provide reinforcement and guidance on your quest for good deals and quality gifts. Sites like Kaboodle, MyItThings and Zebo connect shoppers through online communities that serve as forums for consumers. Members recommend and share products, find discounts and participate in price comparisons. Social shopping sites serve as an alternative to online catalogues and typical product review sites, which are often influenced by retailers and manufacturers. Shopping sites are governed by communities of real shoppers with real opinions and untainted recommendations.

Similarly, the MyShopanion iPhone app gathers input from actual people. The difference is, instead of communing with strangers, you talk to your friends. You can share products through Facebook, Twitter or e-mail and open the floor for discussion.

3. Watch for deals on Facebook and Twitter

If you don’t mind playing into advertising schemes, keep up-to-date with social media postings from your favorite retailers. This year’s Black Friday demonstrated the invaluable power of social media in advertising promotions. Best Buy, Macy’s and Wal-Mart notified Facebook fans of their Black Friday deals far in advance. Also on Facebook, Amazon, Target and Toys R Us held contests and giveaways in hopes of garnering a few likes. Currently, CVS offering a 20% coupon if you take a quiz on the fan page, and Sears, which has over a million likes, is promoting a Holiday Shopping Challenge.

Twitter is especially useful this year, as most major retailers are constantly tweeting about contests, sales and new products. These include Radio Shack, Kohl’s, Apple and many, many, many more. If you’re not too keen on polluting your Twitter feed with advertisements, create a separate Twitter account exclusively for keeping up with the latest holiday deals.

4. Reconnaissance—not quite secret-agent style

If there’s one thing social media’s good for, it’s snooping. Want to know what kind of music you should offhandedly mention to impress that girl in your economics class? Or maybe you need to stalk your ex for a while to satisfy your inner crazy? Facebook offers the solution.

Maybe this is too obvious, but using Facebook to keep tabs on your friends’ and family’s evolving interests is a great way to come up with gift ideas.

EXAMPLE: What’s that movie Barb’s always talking about? Oh, that’s right! The Life Aquatic. Thanks, Facebook. I’ll make her a watercolor replica of the original movie poster.

EXAMPLE: Golly, what the heck am I going to get Uncle Jim this year? Oh, hi Twitter. What’s that, girl? Uncle Jim is at a Flogging Molly show? Perfect! I’ll knit a pair of socks with an alternating shamrock-and-punk-rock-devil-fingers pattern.

But don’t limit your creeping to Facebook and Twitter. Hop on Amazon and see if your recipient has a wish list. Additionally, smartphone apps like Giftmeister are useful in browsing gifts by personality type. There’s never an excuse to settle for an Applebee’s gift card or the standard fruitcake. Use social media to demonstrate a little thoughtfulness.

5. Facebook game credits

It’s becoming increasingly common to use Facebook as the primary source of familial updates. Maybe you only see Aunt Genevieve twice a year, but if you begrudgingly accepted her slightly embarrassing friend request, you probably have a general idea of what she’s up to. And, as is becoming frighteningly typical of middle-aged adults, what she’s up to is probably FarmVille or Mafia Wars.

Target, Wal-Mart, Gamestop, Best Buy, RadioShack and a few others are selling Facebook credit gift cards this year. Facebook is full of free games and apps with optional upgrades available in exchange for a little cash. If the only thing you really know about Aunt Genevieve is that the bulk of her time seems to be devoted to raising virtual livestock, she might appreciate some a little farm cash. Be careful, though. This can be like gifting needles to a junkie. Facebook credits for Christmas is not without moral ambiguity.