smart spending

How to use Twitter to save cash

Highlights
  • If a company follows you, you can send it a private direct message.
  • If the company doesn't follow you, send a public tweet to get noticed.
  • Some companies broadcast Twitter-only coupon codes or other offers.

The "microblogging" site Twitter isn't just for complaining about work or broadcasting what you ate for lunch. In these tight times, some consumers find that a little tweeting is worth big savings.

For the uninitiated, Twitter is a social media application that allows you to quickly share information with your followers, or subscribers, via 140-character messages known as "tweets."

Many large corporations use Twitter to generate buzz and to develop relationships with customers. Hertz, Marriott and Carnival Cruise Lines all have Twitter accounts.

The upshot: You can connect directly to businesses that offer products or services you want. "I don't know of any site other than Twitter that gives you person-to-person interaction with brands you like," says Jenn Deering Davis, chief of community experience at Appozite, which runs CheapTweet, a Web site that aggregates discounts found on Twitter.

Because the information broadcast on Twitter is so public, companies are likely to pay attention when you tweet about them. That can enable you to reach a company representative with the ability to give you a discount.

Twitter traffic cops

"Most companies with a strong presence on Twitter are monitoring any mention of them on Twitter and will respond publicly," says Lani Rosales, co-founder and president of New Media Lab, a Texas marketing and advertising firm that specializes in social media. "Typically, corporations employ a dedicated social median who spends a great deal of time on Twitter and can be thought of as a traffic cop with access to the decision makers within the company."

Brooke Gorman of Detroit found that to be the case when she tweeted asking for a discount code for a stay at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich. In response, the hotel's marketing director contacted Gorman. "We worked out a good nightly rate," she says.

Twitter-specific deals

Many firms offer Twitter-specific coupons or discounts, Rosales says. A prime example is Dell Outlet, which sells refurbished Dell computers and tweets coupon codes and other offers. Meryl Evans of Plano, Texas, saved $100 and got free shipping on a refurbished laptop when she sent a direct message to DellOutlet on Twitter, asking for recommendations for a laptop that met her requirements. "They recommended the Studio 1537, and that's what I bought -- a red one too! I don't spend extra on stuff like color, but the deal paid off so I could treat myself," she says.

Twitter's ability to tap into the knowledge of many people at once can also help you save. If you follow the right people, they will tell you about discount codes or promotions that could take hours of Web searching to find on your own.

For instance, Kim Gorode, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was unsure how to get the best deal for a rental car on Priceline.com, so she tweeted some questions. A representative from online travel community BidLessTravel gave her bidding advice and also sent her a coupon to save 15 percent at Budget Rent A Car. Priceline didn't have any economy cars available, so she used the coupon. "I saved about $30, which was a tank of gas, so I consider that a pretty good deal," Gorode says.

Follow these tips to tweet to your pocketbook's best advantage:

Target your tweet. If a company is following you on Twitter, you can send a private direct message, as Evans did with Dell Outlet. If the company isn't one of your followers, you can address a public tweet to the company. To do so, use the @ symbol at the beginning of your tweet. For instance, if you want to finagle a deal with Marriott, begin it with "@MarriottIntl." Or, if you're polling your followers about deals, ensure that your tweet shows up in search results by using the # symbol. For instance, if you're looking for coupons from Hertz, end your tweet with #Hertz.

Be flexible. Even if you can't connect to your first-choice company, a tweet may still get you a good deal elsewhere. This past June, for instance, Gorman wanted to stay at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel for a weekend trip to Nashville, Tenn., but the hotel was out of her price range, and she had no luck when she tweeted asking if anyone had a discount code. "But instead I was contacted by a boutique hotel that offered me a rate $30 cheaper a night than the Internet rate," Gorman says.

Cast your net wide. Following your favorite brands is a good start, but you'll have more discounts at your fingertips if you also follow people whose passion is saving money. "There are a lot of bloggers who search for coupons and deals, and blog and tweet about them every day," Davis says. Examples include couponjunction and coupongeek. Follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/couponjunction and www.twitter.com/coupongeek. You can also follow services that tweet information about discount offers. CheapTweet collects deals broadcast on Twitter by retailers and consumers, then posts them on its Web site. Deals that are rated highly by users as well as those mentioned most often on Twitter make it to the top of the list. Follow them on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cheaptweet. RetailMeNot.com and Rollback.com post coupon codes you can use in online shopping, and both sites tweet about some of the codes. To follow: www.twitter.com/retailmenot and www.twitter.com/rollback.

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