Couples tweet their way to branded bliss

Antoinette Marie Johnson and Tyler Westnedge run a boutique branding agency, At Media, with an emphasis on Web and social media. They used their knowledge to brand their wedding: Create a hashtag, develop a social media brand, and connect.
Antoinette Marie Johnson and Tyler Westnedge run a boutique branding agency, At Media, with an emphasis on Web and social media. They used their knowledge to brand their wedding: Create a hashtag, develop a social media brand, and connect.
Posted: May 02, 2013

When it came to their wedding to-do list, Antoinette Marie Johnson and Tyler Westnedge started with the standard fare: Book a venue, select flowers, arrange dress fittings, hire a caterer. But then, there was more to be done: Create a hashtag, develop a social media brand, and connect with more than 30,000 friends, relatives, business contacts, and total strangers along the way.

Over several months leading up to their April wedding in Fairmount Park, the couple took to sites like Twitter, using the hashtag #atwed. They shared photos of their letterpress invitations (posted to Instagram before the ink was dry), offered snapshots of decorations in progress, and even tweeted a few of those bittersweet and highly personal moments of reflection that precede any wedding, like: "Just realized I will only be a Johnson for 3 more days #atwed :( "

A hashtag may not yet be as critical a bridal accessory as, say, a bouquet or dress, but a growing number of young, social-media-savvy brides are making a point of sharing their big day online, through digital tools that go far beyond the standard-issue wedding website.

A recent survey by David's Bridal found that 68 percent of brides use social media or other technology during dress fittings, and 59 percent will broadcast their "just married" status on Facebook within a day of their wedding. In Philly, local couples are putting their own twist on social weddings: live-streaming ceremonies on the Internet, posting video save-the-dates on YouTube, or blogging the entire wedding-planning process - and enduring a constant stream of feedback in response.

For Johnson, 29, and Westnedge, 28, taking their wedding social was a natural choice. The two run a boutique branding agency, At Media, with an emphasis on the Web and social media.

"We wanted the wedding to have a brand that was very concise," Johnson said, "and part of that was adopting a hashtag for it. We definitely think it's going to be a trend, and we wanted to be trendsetters in that space."

They saw it as an opportunity to spread the message about their wedding, while educating their employees, helping clients understand the power of social media, and - perhaps most gratifying - finally getting their parents to understand what exactly it is they do for a living.

"They were blown away by the invitation and the branding aspect," Johnson said. "They got it, and they finally actually saw our talents."

While the brand the couple created online extended to the invitations and even the ceremony program, the social media effort wasn't targeted to reach only those invited to the affair.

Johnson and Westnedge also wanted to share their enthusiasm with friends who couldn't make it to the wedding or weren't invited due to budget constraints. Their photographer, Kate Neal, posted tagged photos to Instagram throughout the wedding day. A guest used a Twitter app called Vine to share a video clip of the wedding party releasing glowing Chinese lanterns into the sky.

That idea of including virtual guests also made sense to Meghan Donnelly, 29, and Ricardo Lagomasino, 31. They weren't interested in a big wedding, so when they got married in August, it was at City Hall with only immediate family present.

But that didn't go over well with everyone, Donnelly said. "We got a little pushback from family and friends saying, 'What do you mean, we can't be there?' "

Their friend Jamison Murphy offered a solution. The ceremony was streamed through a site called Ustream, where it could be viewed in real time by anyone: Lagomasino's grandmother in Puerto Rico; a friend who watched on her phone at the airport, tearing up while waiting for a flight; and the couple's local circle of friends, who held a viewing party of their own to celebrate.

"We had friends and family from all over the world watching," Donnelly said. The result was a sense of connectedness that she hadn't expected: "I liked that everyone was tuned in at the same time."

She was surprised to learn how poignant viewers found the streamed event. And later, she had a chance to review the video, along with the comments friends had entered in the accompanying chat area.

However, the couple did experience what is, after all, the characteristic pitfall of social media: It can go viral. Donnelly, who has hundreds of Facebook friends, intentionally didn't post the Ustream link on Facebook, preferring to send it to a smaller group of people she thought would be interested. Yet "it got forwarded, and later, people I had no idea were watching it said to me, 'I saw you get married.' You don't really have control over who watches."

That lack of privacy was a consideration for Jessica Smith, who saw her wedding as the one time that she could share the details of her personal life online.

"Generally, I don't like to be so vain on social media," she said. "But with my wedding, I felt the desire to share - and hopefully my family and friends would read it and get excited, too, and think, 'She's doing something special, and taking care, and really including me in the process.' "

Smith and her husband Doug, both 28, created a Tumblr page in the run-up to their September 2011 Philadelphia wedding, syncing the Tumblr with their Facebook pages to reach more friends. Since Smith, a Gladwyne native, now lives in Los Angeles, she had guests traveling across the country to celebrate. She wanted to offer them a centralized resource for Philly tourism attractions and logistical information, along with a side of prenuptial boosterism, like engagement pictures, venue photos, and the details of how she hand-assembled paper tassels for an elaborate place-card installation.

Smith began posting to the site regularly and scheduling Tumblr chats with guests who had questions or just wanted to say hello. It took some coaching for older guests to understand the technology, but they eventually embraced it.

While Tumblr was helpful for Smith's guests, she said another social media site, Pinterest, was "life-changing" for her, given its ability to consolidate and broadcast everything from ceremony decorations to bridesmaid hairstyles.

The David's Bridal survey found that 59 percent of brides consider such sites the best source of wedding inspiration; Johnson said she, too, found it to be valuable. She created one inspiration board, and a second Pinterest board with all of her final selections for the wedding. "When I made decisions with the florist, the wedding stylist could be informed," she explained.

She also used the site to share ideas with her friends, who could borrow inspiration for their own weddings or respond with their comments and opinions.

Of course, feedback might include hearing that your cousin thinks the 5-foot train is too ostentatious. "You're going to get those opinions, and that's the most difficult part for brides, to actually manage that feedback," Johnson said.

Johnson said that, ultimately, social media enabled the couple to stretch their budget far beyond their 128 invited wedding guests, to include their entire online community. "At least they can get excited, get a feel for the event," she said. "I've been told many times, 'Please upload the pictures afterward. I want to see.' "

There was, however, one moment of pause. "We kind of joked, with all of this traffic and everything being so public, I worry: Is it like an open invitation? Are 30,000 people going to show up?"

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