When Catie Farrell, a social media planner in Birmingham, Alabama, was planning her recent wedding, she picked invitations, ordered flowers and hired a caterer and photographer. The venue was booked, the date carved in rock. But she and groom Michael Bell still had to pick a hashtag — #Catieandmichael — and decide how to manage the social media for their big day.
Social media and technology capabilities are among the most exciting — and vexing — aspects of weddings today. The smartphone that lets guests capture moments both meaningful and missable for the wedding party also makes it possible for Aunt Erma to blunder into the path and picture of that expensive professional photographer. The live aspects of Instagram and Facebook let those who can't attend view the event in real time, but may also mean that the groom and guests see the bride's gown before she takes one step down the aisle.
"Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay, and the importance of implementing it into your wedding is reflected in the question that is now continuously asked of wedding venues: 'Do you have Wi-Fi?’ ” said Kristen Ley of Something New for I Do, a marketing company for wedding vendors, based in Atlanta.
Managing the social media aspects of a wedding is perhaps easiest for those who have grown up in a digital age and are comfortable there. Younger brides and grooms "really take advantage of social media," said Alan Katz of the company Great Officiants, in Long Beach, California. "I rarely see couples over 35 with a hashtag."
Katz conducts about 800 weddings a year. He not only leads the vows and "I dos," but also gets the ball rolling by welcoming guests. It's often his job to spell out the digital and social media ground rules. If someone breaks them, he's the guy who confiscates phones, as good-naturedly as possible. "I don't want to be a mean heavy. It's a celebration."
So he's funny, the miscreant hands it over and it's all OK. Did it need to happen?
Richard O'Malley of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, produces special events in New York and New Jersey. His wedding "commandments" start with keeping dress images under wraps. "The dresses reveal are a dramatic moment for guests; don't ruin it with a silly snapshot!" he warned.
He cautions strongly against criticizing anything wedding-related. "If you don't like what you see, taste, smell, keep it to yourself or just be a mean girl with your date. Ripping the couple on (social media) just makes you look petty."
Weddings are also about celebration, O'Malley said, so "honor those who deserve it. Great band? Post about it! Best dress ever? Rave away, after the ceremony. Best food ever? Tell everyone about the caterer! People want to know about the BEST, so let them know."
Rachel and Brad Kerstetter got married in May 2011, just before hashtagging became really popular for weddings. Though the Cleveland woman didn't see the need to include hashtag information for her nuptials, she knew Facebook would be a part of her celebration, with or without her permission.
She was very clear with her bridesmaids. "'Please don't send pictures of my dress, etc., as we're shopping. Don't put it on Facebook or send it to your mom and sister in a message.' It was very important to me. We wanted to be very traditional at the wedding and I didn't want him or our guests to see me before I was walking down the aisle."
Farrell, on the other hand, didn't manage everything perfectly. "I didn't do a good job of making it clear that I didn't want any (wedding dress) pictures posted, so the blame falls on me or my wedding coordinator. You have to set rules and someone has to be the bad guy — I just wasn't interested in being a bridezilla and slapping phones out of hands on one of the biggest days of my life," she said.
"The best part (of guests with smartphones) is that couples can see pictures from a perspective other than the photographer's, as their guests capture raw, candid pictures that the bride and groom might not have otherwise received," said Ley. Some couples hire two professional photographers, she said, so they're sure to get unobstructed views. Others opt for a sign that asks guests not to take photos during the ceremony.
Even the guy or gal officiating can make a mistake. Katz did. At one wedding, he posted on his own Facebook feed a photo of the bride before the ceremony started. Whoops. One of the guests was one of his Facebook friends. "There are not really six degrees of Instagram separation," he joked.
That doesn't mean still or video cameras in the hands of guests are bad.
"Take lots of videos" is the advice from Ariane Fisher of Chicago, CEO of the company that produces the WeddingMix app. "But ask the couple's permission first if you want to post videos or photos on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter." It's quite possible, she said, they would like to be the ones to announce to the world what just happened.
Fisher said photographers and videographers should be unobtrusive. As for the images themselves, it should be up to the couple to pick the best ones to share later, she added.
Guests who take photos should be sure of the context and impression they leave. Katz tells of a guest who shot the groom planting an innocent kiss on someone, then posted it. The angle made it look like they were necking, Katz said, which created problems.
Couple in control
To make sure her guests, wedding party and others had the right social media information, Farrell created a website with icons for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They directed friends to the site through their "save the date" notice and by word of mouth. Sometimes couples include the information in invitations or on programs. They may post it at the wedding venue.
When Bridget Bohl and James Cramer of River Falls, Wisconsin, got married a few weeks ago, they knew they couldn't invite all their friends and coworkers because their families were so large. They didn't want hurt feelings on Facebook, so they found a digital application that guests could download to share photos in a central location.
"This also prevents Facebook friends from being bombarded with photos. My husband and I appreciated this because the day was such a whirlwind and there were simply too many moments that we and our photographers weren't able to see firsthand," Bridget Cramer said.
They didn't use hashtags, "afraid it might confuse our older guests and dilute the amount of people that used the app since we knew some were going to use Facebook instead of the app based on their comfort level with technology," she said. "Some guests used Vine during the wedding dance and it was pretty fun to see everyone cutting loose on the dance floor!"
They loved the good wishes on their Facebook feed that morning.
"Your entire social media network isn't expecting to get invited to your wedding, but to save yourself from some potentially uncomfortable situations, you might as well create lists and only share your wedding progress with them. And along those lines, most people don't want to know every update. Plus, don't you want to save some of the details for your nearest and dearest or as a surprise for the day of?" said Jacqueline Benson, founder of Los Angeles-based Hostess to Hostess party supply search site.
Plenty of don'ts
Kerstetter has seen odd social media behavior, like the family friend who RSVPed to a relative's wedding by posting a last-minute note on the mother of the bride's Facebook wall. Or the friend whose wedding invitation was a Facebook "event" notice.
She learned a lot of people, instead of picking up the phone and calling or sending a text message, post questions about the wedding on the Facebook wall, in the public forum. "People have hundreds and hundreds of friends, not all invited."
Kerstetter also cringes when honeymooners post their trip, minute by minute, on Facebook. "Get off of Facebook," she said. "Spend some time with your husband. I am a huge fan of unplugging. I am on every social media platform there is, but I try to be cautious and don't let every detail of my life out there."
There are other things one shouldn't do. Dawn Reid of Clemonton, New Jersey, a marriage and relationship coach, officiates ceremonies. Sex, she said, is a major taboo. Don't post about your wedding night or anything related to your sex life. Skip the photos of bachelor or bachelorette parties in which participants are drunk or acting foolishly.
That resonates with Vin Ferrer, social media strategist at Graphic D-Signs in Washington, New Jersey. "I predict a good portion of the new digitally integrated culture will enjoy that ability (to play up pictures), while others will seek out means to cover it up — no more pictures of exes," he said. Ferrer calls social media "almost the wedding card 2.0 version."
Omit mention of any arguments — they do happen — that occur while planning or at the wedding. "The wedding is only a day, but your relationships can last a lifetime, especially if some of the wedding party members are family. Anything you post will come back to haunt you later … post nothing that will embarrass you or the family name," Reid said.
Posting "respectful but funny aspects of the wedding" are just fine, Farrell said.
"What's a good idea? Realize that as a bride, you can't control everything — especially digitally," Farrell said.