If they forgot, the bridesmaids and groomsmen could always check their socks.
On the bottom of this customized, polka-dot hosiery, bride and groom Lauren and Ryan Cohen had printed some vital information for their wedding this past June: #RyLovesLoLo. It was the hashtag the couple had picked for their nuptials – “Lolo” being Lauren’s nickname. Guests were encouraged to amass snapshots and videos to post to social media under this hashtag, documenting for the busy bride and groom how their big day was unfolding in “real time,” as the bride put it.
In the end, there were 113 references to #RyLovesLoLo online, a resounding success: “It just brought the whole evening together on Instagram, which we both absolutely love,” said Lauren Cohen, a 27-year-old advertising account manager in Toronto.
People Instagram their food and what they look like in the morning; it should follow that they’d want to catalogue every bit of nuptial minutiae as it happens. The customized hashtag is suddenly ubiquitous at weddings, allowing couples to collate everybody’s photos, videos, congratulatory tweets and inebriated overheards in one place on the Internet. People are now enlisting wedding planners to brainstorm catchy hashtags.
The specialized hashtags are then broadcast from “wedding websites” in advance, displayed prominently on signs erected at ceremonies, or pressed into invitations and place-card holders – all a nudge for guests to serve as photographers and narrators of the big bash.
But with social media still relatively new terrain in the wedding-industrial complex, two camps have emerged: those who photograph, hashtag and post everything, and those who are going unplugged, pushing back against a sea of devices glowing down the aisle.
These camps stand firmly divided on what brides and grooms gain and what they lose when they encourage a communal recording and broadcasting of the entire day.
Social mores emerge and diverge at weddings, with nuptials often serving as a cultural litmus test. In this case, it’s how a generation feels about the place of social media in their lives.
There are brides and grooms who feel it brings everyone together and others who believe it alienates guests from each other.
When you focus more on sharing the moment than the moment itself, what do you experience and what do you miss?
Kristin MacKenzie left her own phone in the hotel room on her wedding day this May but encouraged guests to post under #kpmmwedding, which fused her initials with her husband’s.
“People used to put cameras on the table. I love having the scrapbook online. It turns a wedding into one big giant conversation,” said MacKenzie, a 24-year-old seminary student at the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. “These were reminders of conversations and inside jokes that brought everyone together. It’s even better than having photos.”
MacKenzie said her guests knew better than to snap photos or tweet during the traditional Anglican ceremony, whipping out their phones only at the party.
“There is a balance to be struck between actually having experiences and recording them,” she said.
“We watch concerts through our phones. We take so long logging everything that we miss out. But with a wedding, there’s a balance to be had for taking the day in but also having these records.”
For some, the wedding hashtag has become political. When he married his partner James in a civil ceremony in Toronto last December, Anglican pastor Daniel Brereton wanted to share the day via social media with his American friends down south, where gay marriage remains banned in many states. “For them it was important to be able to follow this, be part of it and voice their support for it,” said Brereton.
He had a friend live tweet the proceedings, posting photos, Vine videos and transcripts of the vows under the “slightly embarrassing hashtag” #royalwedding2013 (Brereton is a big Kate Middleton fan). As a bonus, the two men received wedding gifts from Twitter followers they’ve never met in person.
Brereton’s only regret was that he failed to inform guests at the ceremony that he’d enlisted a transcriber who would be live tweeting throughout: “She was getting a lot of really angry stares with people thinking she was being rude on her cellphone and not paying attention.”
Ceremonies remain sancrosant for many guests, brides and grooms, who prefer them iPad- free. In July, Kimberlee McCormack was married in an unplugged ceremony at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. Ahead of the vows, her wedding planner took the stage to request no smartphone photos, videos or social-media updates.
“It was an intimate setting. We wrote our own vows. It was really important for us to have everyone present,” said McCormack, a 29-year-old account director at an advertising firm.
As a result of the tech ban, McCormack feels the audience was more attentive: “The quiet was what really surprised us. Everyone was looking at us. I’ve never seen that before at any wedding I’ve been to.”
She added: “If you don’t care about the hype or about what people think and see in social media – where we often portray a persona anyway – then do the same thing that we did.”
Jen Doll, author of the recent book Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest, advocates for fewer rules of any kind for guests. She believes both plugged and unplugged weddings have drawbacks. At nuptials heavily mediated by Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Facebook, guests lose out on “unscripted conversations” as their focus shifts downward to their phones. With outright tech bans, guests are probably distracted anyway by thoughts of what they’re missing on those phones.
In both the plugged and unplugged camps, Doll sees a common element of “control mechanism.”
Couples can sculpt their image by forbidding photos, videos and tweets, publishing only the best shots through their own wedding photographer, or they can shape their new personal brand as a unit through social media.
“Brides and grooms have paid the money and tried to orchestrate it to make it perfect,” Doll says in an interview from Brooklyn, N.Y.
“If someone comes in, takes an unflattering photo and decides to put it on the Internet, it can feel like everything is ruined.”
She remembers a time before weddings became a “manufactured environment,” when our parents’ nuptials were shot haphazardly with Polaroid cameras and even wedding photographers didn’t enter the frame. “Part of this is about how excessive weddings have gotten in recent times,” says Doll. “It’s everybody’s opportunity to be a celebrity.”
Meg Keene, the editor-in-chief of the wedding-planning website A Practical Wedding, is a “super-big fan” of device-free nuptials.
“I dislike the narrative that you’re being crazy or demanding if you ask for an unplugged ceremony,” Keene said in an interview from Oakland, Calif.
Keene said it used to be “that one uncle” who would lurch into the aisle with his expensive camera gear. “Now every single person has a device and we’re all so trained – if it’s only even vaguely meaningful – to take a picture. Who wants to walk down the aisle to a whole bunch of smartphones in their faces?”
No one gripes more against the hashtagged wedding than professional photographers. Steve Koopman, who runs Unveiled Photography with his wife Katie in Kingston, Ont., rattles off a list of “frustrating scenarios,” including “massive iPads being substituted for heads” in the audience during a ceremony.
More disappointing is the dynamic he sees playing out between family members who haven’t seen each other in years: Instead of being together, they’re hunched over their phones posting wedding content “in what often appears to be a competition to see who does it first.”
Koopman’s advice is undeniably appealing: “Sit back, have a drink, relax. Live in the moment. Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.”
Wedding Hits and Misses
Lizzie Post is the great-great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post, and co-author of Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette, which was updated in January with social-media rules for nuptials. In an interview from Burlington, Vt., Post offered these dos and don’ts:
Timing is everything
Post dissuades brides (and grooms) from oversharing wedding plans using a hashtag in the weeks and months leading up to the big day. “It’s not that fun for all the people who follow you on social media who aren’t invited.” Day of, guests should respect the hosts’ wishes, if they wish to post their own content first. And never – ever – post photos of the bride before she walks down the aisle. “You don’t want someone scooping your story,” says Post. “Give the bride and groom a chance to post something on their own.”
Location, location, location
For the hosts: Do not emblazon the hashtag on the invitation – that’s just tacky. “It’s not the place for it,” says Post. “The invitation is the one place where we focus entirely on the guests. It’s about letting them know that their presence is welcome.” As for Instagramming by hashtag-happy guests, “It’s really important that you don’t lean in front of the photographer to get the photo,” says Post. “Out of respect, he’s the professional. You’re messing up the bride and groom’s shot.”
If you’ve taken it upon yourself to catalogue the evening’s hilarity on Twitter, watch the booze. “Guests can get too caught up in it. Next thing they know they’ve posted something hurtful or inappropriate,” says Post. “I’m thinking of a situation at a wedding a number of years ago. The person at the table next to me wasn’t enjoying herself. She spelled out ‘F me’ on her dinner plate using vegetables, and posted that.”