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.