Picture this: It's Saturday morning, and you're scrolling through your Facebook news feed. There, amid your pals' baby pictures and funny videos, a new item pops up at the top of your feed — a one-day, 40 percent–off sale promoted by a big-name clothing retailer.
A quick search of that same company's Twitter feed yields a coupon giving you a $10 discount for every $25 spent in the store. On the way to cash in on this deal, you stop at a favorite coffee shop, check in on your smartphone with the popular Foursquare app and immediately get 10 percent off the next latte as a reward for your 10th check-in.
If you're over 50 and an Internet user, you are probably no stranger to Facebook — according to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of adults 50 through 64, and 43 percent of those 65 or older, now use a social networking site. The average American over 50 spends nearly 2-1/2 hours per day on social media. As users flock to the new media, marketers follow, and companies are feverishly experimenting with ways to penetrate this vast ocean of potential customers. Brands and businesses sank nearly $5 billion into social media advertising in 2012 to help push their wares, promote sales and reach out to millions of consumers who've added social networks to their daily media diet. Little wonder that a 2012 study from marketing researchers posited that heavy social media use can inhibit self-control and encourage you to spend more money.
In other words, your virtual friends and followers can be the enemies of your pocketbook. But social media is also a powerful tool for saving: It facilitates the search for money-saving deals and frugal-living tips, because it harnesses the collective wisdom of a digitally networked world. You just need to:
1. Love the 'like'
What's with all those Facebook requests to "like" some store or product you've never heard of? Thanks to the "liking" habits of your social media pals, you've been caught up in a corporate charm offensive that might be worth a click. On Facebook, most retailers, whether they're physical stores or online hubs, have pages on which they post information about new products and sales. "Liking" a store or brand will keep you informed of coupons, clearances and buy-one-get-one deals, as when, in early October, clothing outlet Old Navy posted a 50 percent–off sale good for one day only on its Facebook page. In one study, 67 percent of customers said they'd be willing to "like" a store or brand page on Facebook in exchange for 25 percent savings.
2. Tweet for dollars
Older users have been slower to adopt the microblogging service Twitter — why, after all, would a noncelebrity need to send thousands of strangers teeny 140-character messages several times a day? But think of Twitter as a constantly updating news ticker: The only information you see in your feed comes from the tweets of other users you follow. Follow money experts like @JeanChatzky and @JaneBryantQuinn to get their tips and advice. You can also follow brands and stores, which can pay off in unexpected ways. (Case in point: In September, retailer Lands' End gave away dress shirts to users who retweeted messages from its #MadeToWork campaign.)
3. Search and save
Specific information on Twitter is organized using hashtags (a keyword — or words — preceded by a "#" sign), and the search function is your best friend. Want the latest chatter on how to save money? Search topics such as #SavingMoney, #YourMoney, #Frugal and #Bargain. Hashtags are also used on the photo-sharing app Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, and on Pinterest, a virtual corkboard where users (a third of whom are 50 or older) post images of stuff they like. Pinterest is especially popular among women, who make up more than 70 percent of users, so expect to find an abundance of pages devoted to women's style, fashion, cooking and more. On Pinterest you build your personal corkboard around your interests; companies use it to create virtual storefronts to advertise their wares. Following the stores and brands you like can give you a jump on coupons and notifications of clearance events.