Inside ‘Insta-Booking’: How couples are hiring wedding vendors via Instagram

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Ed. note: This story was reported, written, and edited prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photographer Madison “Max” Pittman books at least one wedding a week using Instagram.

In fact, she used Instagram exclusively for the first
nine months of her business, Max McQueen Photo, as she built out her website
and established her online presence. Now that she does have a portfolio website,
Pittman still finds Instagram to be the most lucrative tool. And increasingly, she says, her clients have
grown up with the Internet. If they book everything from restaurant
reservations to a date with an app, they expect to book a wedding photographer
that way, too.

“People instantly know if they like my style and
approach just by looking at my Instagram, and they know they can connect with
me within a few seconds over direct messaging,” Pittman says of her Instagram
profile, @maxmcqueenphoto. “I
can send them links to my full galleries, photos, even posts by other vendors
who I enjoy working with super easily.”

And she’s not alone. An overwhelming number of
wedding professionals, from stationers and musicians to event planners, say
that Instagram is the most important platform for their marketing. Gone are the days when couples would meet with
wedding vendors in person to discuss details. Today’s couples are searching
for, following, and even booking their wedding vendors via Instagram. Direct
messages have become the new phone calls, and the feed is the new portfolio.

Pittman’s clients, Nick and Shannon, booked her via Instagram for their city hall nuptials. “All communication was over the app from the beginning,” she says.
Max McQueen Photo

“The
Instagram rabbit hole is a real thing, especially for engaged couples,”
explains Marcy Blum, the event planner behind Marcy Blum Associates. “The
platform is very visual. It’s very easy for a couple to see a wedding or design
that resonates with them. Most couples will check out a planner’s Instagram
before they are even interested in communicating with them.”

Blum
is one of the top planners in the business and has more than 35 years of
experience. She has more than 58,000 followers at @marcyblum. She’s embraced
Instagram as a way to connect with millennial couples, many of whom are at the
marriage stage, and showcase her brand, particularly her sense of humor.

“I write copy for everything,” Blum says of her posts, which a team helps plan and execute. “There are too many accounts that I follow, and the verbiage reads like a press release.”

Blum brings up an important perk of the platform versus other digital mediums: the ability to be authentic and personal. It’s the reason fellow event planner and designer Jove Meyer also aligns his company with Instagram—he goes as far to say that the social media brand powers his business. Jove Meyer Events (@jovemeyer) specializes in bold, modern celebrations and prioritizes collaborating with businesses run by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Meyer says he doesn’t like to be put into a box and is attracted to clients who don’t either; Instagram’s free expression means they can easily find one another. He regularly receives direct messages inquiring about his services.

“Email feels so formal, text seems too personal, but Instagram is a fun way to chat about various subjects,” Meyer says, noting he will talk about non-wedding-related topics with current and prospective clients. “If we put ourselves out there, we have to be ready to be social and engage.”

Social contracts

Most wedding
professionals—especially those who work with couples spending hundreds of
thousands of dollars on their weddings—run their own business profiles. Brian
Buonassissi, a destination event DJ who goes by DJ Brian B, says he “lives off
Instagram” as part of his bookings. He gets four to five inquiries a week at
@djbrianbofficial. “Connecting is a lot easier than many other platforms
because this is both where the content creator and viewers are living,” he
says. Part of his success is that he sticks to a formula for his posts and
Instagram stories that reinforce he’s a “normal human not a huge corporation,”
like some wedding entertainment companies. He appears daily to talk to his
11,500 followers on stories about his upcoming gigs, travel hiccups, and
empowering fellow DJs. “My posting buckets are travel, music, and packed dance
floors—that’s it,” Buonassissi adds.

Nearly 80% of wedding planning is done online, according to WeddingWire’s Newlywed Report, and wedding professionals often share, anecdotally, that couples want to hire vendors who feel like friends. Wendy El-Khoury, founder and director of Wedded Wonderland, an online wedding marketplace (@weddedwonderland), says couples look for emotional connections when booking wedding vendors. The fact that Instagram and direct messaging allow for immediate contact with the business owner and casual relationship building makes it the perfect place for the two entities to meet.

While
a wedding caterer or florist is used to contracts and booking procedures, it’s
likely the first time that a couple is hiring service professionals. Kaleigh
Wiese, founder of event branding and stationery company Meldeen (@meldeenink), says
the human component of Instagram puts millennial couples at ease when reaching
out for something as anxiety-ridden and emotionally charged as wedding
planning. Once they feel the vendor is less of a stranger, the couple is more
easily swayed to a conversation over the phone to talk about how something
unique can be created for them. Getting the couple to a phone call is important
for final booking because so much of the wedding is tailored to a couple’s
specific tastes, and emails are needed for sending official documents like
contracts and invoices.

Each wedding professional has a system for converting the client from Instagram to a live conversation, but not until they feel a valid relationship after conversing online. Additionally, they all go over basics—including availability and style—via direct message. It’s vital, Meyer says, that pros do respond quickly; Instagram shows both parties in a conversation which messages have been seen.

There are other social media platforms that play a role in wedding marketing. Blum says that Facebook is best for her B2B relationships with other vendors, and Buonassissi uses YouTube to show videos of DJ sets and has a podcast about event music. Both Meyer and Pittman agree Pinterest has a huge sway with wedding decor and photography. And mobile payments are on the rise, says Wiese, who has seen a huge uptick in requests to pay by Venmo. “Many of our clients have never had a checkbook,” she explains. “They like that it’s instant; they keep a pool of money in their Venmo like a bank account.”

Wedding vendors who aren’t utilizing these platforms are slowly being left behind as the younger generation embraces social media as a way to find and book their weddings. Many sessions at wedding industry conferences and meet-ups include social media topics, and webinars and blogs abound with information on how vendors can better execute an Instagram strategy. For many, though, it’s simple: Just be themselves, and the couples will find them (with the help of hashtags). “Some industry peers don’t see it as a professional way of doing business,” El-Khoury says. “I say, it’s all about the context of communication, not mode. Millennials and Gen-Z will, without a doubt, continue using social media for decision-making and product purchases. This is how they connect with businesses.”

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