#IDo: For weddings, what rules apply when sharing on social media?

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In a world where everything is instantly digital, are you (and your guests) aware of wedding etiquette when it comes to posting, pinning and tweeting?

by COURTNEY SPALTEN / illustration by JIMMIE HENSLEE

Here comes the #bride. In addition to the dress, the tuxedo, the cake and the venue, the checklist for a perfect wedding now includes a catchy hashtag. Indeed, nuptials have gone viral, with announcements made on Facebook and guests sharing photos galore — with custom Instagram hashtags per the couple’s request. Social media, as a phenomenon, has morphed into a sort of wedding planner and a guest, there from the engagement all the way through the honeymoon.

Few things are left unsaid in the cyberworld. According to a September 2013 Pew Research Center report on social media usage, 73 percent of adults online use some kind of social networking site. The unofficial motto of the plugged-in community? An event didn’t happen unless it was documented on the Web. Weddings are exciting, emotional occasions — but posting every detail on multiple social media platforms can quickly turn into over-sharing. At best, abundant social media posts can lead to the annoyance of clogged news feeds. At worst, they can negatively affect relationships outside the virtual world.

At what point does social media fun become a faux pas? There are many resources for advice on maintaining proper wedding manners, including the Emily Post Institute, named for the trusted authority on etiquette who penned her first book in 1922. Now, questions are no longer just about RSVPs and attire: The digital dilemmas of today have blurred the lines of what is appropriate. One of the cardinal rules of engagement etiquette is to share the news with your family first. Announcing your engagement on social networks before picking up the phone makes the news public knowledge before the family finds out, ultimately hurting feelings. Posting the wedding announcement and details about the ceremony can upset some of your social network followers who are receiving regular updates about a wedding to which they may not be invited.

With a smartphone in hand, guests have the power to take and share photos on the spot — thus becoming unofficial photographers without the bride’s and groom’s approval. Where does the line get drawn? It’s up to the couple to make their expectations clear. Tweeting and uploading photos during the exchange of vows stands in conflict with the traditional role of the guests: bearing witness to the union. In addition to being distracting, using social media during the ceremony interferes with that duty and ultimately can be disrespectful of the sanctity of the occasion. Unflattering shots of the couple — and those happenings on the dance floor at 1:47 a.m. — will be forever memorialized online. Snap-happy guests, by uploading at the event, can also rob the couple of being the first to share images of their special day. How to know when it is appropriate to share? Author and lifestyle expert Kimberly Schlegel Whitman says that if the couple’s preferences are unclear, the bride should be given the right of first post. “The rule of thumb is that a guest should not post a photo of the wedding, especially of the bride and groom, until the bride has had a chance to do so.” When in doubt, put down the phone.

There are benefits to embracing wedding social media. Pinterest is an inspiring resource for brides and grooms-to-be, with a plethora of images to reference while planning. There are even wedding apps designed to help the couple stay organized. (In utilizing these tools, users are broadcasting their online activity with their entire social networking circles, making it important to remain conscious of what is being shared. “As long as a bride keeps her own posts positive,” Whitman says, “and doesn’t vent about wedding stress, I think it is great to share with friends.”) Live tweeting from the affair allows distant family members to feel included, and those custom hashtags arrange everyone’s photos in one place, making it fun to view moments from the special day. In fact, some couples are going to great lengths to maximize the digital presence of their union. The W Hotel chain recently made headlines over the new service being offered at its New York locations. For $3,000, couples can hire a social media wedding concierge to oversee all digital aspects of the wedding, including creating Pinterest boards during planning, live-tweeting the ceremony and uploading gorgeously filtered photos to Instagram. Duties even include supervising the social media activity of guests by encouraging the use of the designated hashtag.

Social media has firmly established a role in the wedding process, but should it be invited at all? Last summer, The New York Times published an article about the trend of “unplugged” weddings, wherein couples request that their guests refrain from the use of technology. Some couples are taking concrete measures to ensure their wedding stays offline, from invitations with the polite inclusion “No cellphones, please” to confiscating electronic devices at the event. There are many reasons why couples are deciding to limit social media exposure: blowing the big reveal of the dress, discretion about how lavish a wedding may be and, perhaps the most appealing, a desire to have their invited guests “be fully present for the bride and groom,” says a rabbi in the Times story. “Maybe,” Whitman says, “they were not able to invite as many people as they would have liked, and they don’t want people’s feelings to be hurt.” Then she adds: “Maybe they just want to keep the images private.”

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