As the holiday season rapidly approached us this year, so did a few other significant days: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While these are always important days for both retailers and consumers, I found it interesting to note how social media has morphed the holiday shopping experience into something entirely different. Today, the everyday consumer is using several outlets including Twitter, Facebook, and mobile applications to find the best deals before setting foot in any stores.

On Monday, Advertising Age revealed that “consumers are increasingly using the web as a research tool to help them plan bricks-and-mortar shopping trips and make more thought-out online purchases.” Google searches related to “Black Friday” were up more than 20% this year, and searches for “printable coupons” were up 50%. Whether these consumers are making the actual purchase in-store or online, they are doing their research ahead of time to ensure that they get the best possible price.

One extreme example of how consumers used online content to help navigate through stores on Black Friday came from one of the more popular Google searches over Thanksgiving, the “Walmart Black Friday store map.”  The people who took advantage of the printable store layouts Walmart provided online were mapping out exactly what they were going to purchase at Walmart that day. Other examples came from consumers using Twitter and mobile applications to plan out their shopping experience this year. A popular Twitter application was CheapTweet, which scans Twitter for any tweets that mention sales or bargains.  One of the year's most popular iPhone applications was TGI Black Friday, an app that compiles a list of more than 8,000 deals at 50+ stores.

While it’s evident that digital applications are allowing consumers to shop at ease, another interesting point was made in AdAge about social media’s influence on these popular shopping days. Simon Dumenco argues that through the use of social media, many “marketers have particularly diluted the meaning of Black Friday, given all the pre-Black Friday, and ‘better-than-Black-Friday’ deals” that have showed up on these sites prior to Thanksgiving. The topic of “Black Friday” was especially prominent on Twitter, "with 3,725 tweets on Thursday, November 19th. On Monday of this week, there were 18,598 tweets mentioning 'Black Friday.'"

With consumers and retailers tweeting and retweeting about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s not surprising that a recent Razorfish study revealed that “44% of people who follow brands on Twitter do so because they want exclusive deals.” Catherine Taylor suggests in her MediaPost article that, over the next few years, retailers’ will focus on advertising through social media more than through paid campaigns after this year’s social media success stories.

Looking back on this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’m starting to believe that this will be one of the last years of these shopping holidays as we know them. Once brands find their place in the social media world, it’s likely that consumers may focus more on following their online deal alerts on Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites. I already find myself searching for printable coupons to my favorite stores and following companies and brands on Twitter to utilize deals that they post. I’m predicting that brands will have well-established plans for their social media strategies come next holiday season and that most were simply testing the waters this year. I wonder which brands will realize that consumers have figured out where the deals are: within social media outlets. What do you think?

As always, comments are welcomed.

-Contributed by Katy Rohlicek. Follow her @katyroll.