At most weddings all eyes are typically on the brides and grooms. But for social media influencers, the audience is magnified by the thousands.
“Their day just happens to have a few extra hundred thousand eyeballs on it, with each step down the aisle and cut of the cake,” said Caila Quinn, an influencer herself with nearly 400,000 Instagram followers. “Your loved ones might judge you, but also the entire world might.”
Ms. Quinn, 28, lives in New York City and stepped into the spotlight when she appeared on Season 20 of “The Bachelor,” which aired in 2016, and went on to work for herself as a social media content creator. Now she’s getting married. She met Nick Burrello, 28, a real estate private equity investor in New York, in 2017 through a mutual friend and got engaged in January 2020. They are planning to host two weddings: one in Lake Como, Italy, on May 29, 2021, and another on July 17, 2021, in her hometown Cleveland. She’s been taking her followers along on the wedding-planning ride and plans to showcase her wedding as well.
Even before social media, couples have felt the need to create a dream wedding day. “Wedding and bridal magazines and those images have been with us since the 1930s and I’m sure before that in some other format,” said Jocelyn Charnas, a clinical psychologist in New York. “Those aspirational images of how a day is supposed to look or be have been floating around for so long now, it’s normalized this idea of ‘the best day of your life.’”
The way influencers document their wedding planning makes it seem effortless and fun. But in reality, that’s not always an accurate depiction. Dr. Charnas said the stress and cost for other couples trying to live up to unrealistic expectations seen on social media can be “intense.”
Of course, social media often doesn’t tell the entire wedding story. Sharleen Joynt, a New York-based opera singer and influencer who got married to Andrew Levine, 48, an owner of a natural products company, in 2017 in New York, feels that her status added an extra layer of stress and work to her wedding day. “Ultimately, I saved money but spent time, energy, stress. It was a trade-off,” she said. “I think I would have rather spent a little more money and saved on some of the stress.”
She feels her decision to leverage her social media following to save money (she estimates she saved about 40 percent of what the wedding would have ended up costing) unintentionally led her to have an “influencer wedding.” “I think the whole day was just a little more extra than I had intended,” she said. For example, she paid extra money to rent additional lounge sofas. They replaced the sofas that her venue had provided, but which she didn’t like.
“If this was not being photographed to death and shared on many outlets, would I have spent that extra money? Probably not,” she said. But in the end she moved forward with the extra expense because she “knew there would be a lot of people watching.”
Ms. Joynt hired a public relations company to help secure partnerships for her wedding. The firm also represented several wedding vendors, she noted, and “I got a ton of pressure from them to go with their vendors.”
Ms. Joynt had promised many of the vendors exposure on UsWeekly.com. But after the wedding, she was surprised to learn she would also get a two-page spread in the print edition that would mention four vendors. When one vendor that had given her a discount in exchange for coverage on UsWeekly.com found out it wasn’t listed in print, it sent her a “scathing” email, she said, and charged her for what it claimed were “damages” to the rentals.
“We were like, ‘We gave you what we promised, which was UsWeekly.com.’ But they were furious, and said some of the stuff was sent back damaged, even though it was all fine when we loaded it into the truck.”
Some promises were also made without her approval. “The P.R. company, I learned after the wedding, had promised some Instagram posts without consulting me,” she said. “The Instagram post thing was sprung on me after the fact. And we’re talking dedicated posts for the DJ when I got 10 percent off. Considering how many vendors there were, if it was a 10 percent discount, I would have rather just paid full price.”
There were other issues. Ms. Joynt’s wedding dress was 50 percent off, but it arrived too small and she couldn’t risk waiting to have it fixed and sent back in time. She found another dress, but was down to the wire with tailoring. “I got it back Thursday for my Friday wedding,” she said. (Her flower girl dresses also arrived the day before, and her veil two days before.
While her wedding was in no way Insta-perfect, her social media followers were none the wiser. Ms. Joynt posted a photo of her dress. “On Instagram, I was just wearing a beautiful backless dress, no drama in getting it,” she said. “And I tagged the brand of the dress, even though I didn’t get any discount on that — it probably looked like I got it for free from the designer. But I didn’t.”
Many people probably assume that influencers get their entire weddings comped in exchange for social media promotion. But Sam Ozkural Dural, 29, a YouTuber and social media influencer, says she paid for almost her entire wedding. The only items she got from brands, she said, were bridesmaids dresses and a pair of shoes.
“I didn’t want to owe anybody anything or be influenced by what was being offered to me for free or discounted,” she said. “I just knew that I wanted it my way.”
Plus, she said, she wanted to avoid criticism from her followers. She and Jarod Dural, a 30-year-old mortgage broker, decided to get married rather quickly because her grandmother was in hospice and she hoped to have her at the wedding. When she shared with her followers that she would get married in December 2019, within a few months of getting engaged, “that’s when I saw hate coming in.” People were commenting on her privilege to be able to afford to have a wedding only a few months after getting engaged.
“The hardest parts were, as influencers, always trying to negotiate a deal and see how we can provide the digital currency that we wanted to offer people,” Heather Pearson said, “setting up conversations and following up and trying to meet people in the middle, because we did not get everything for free just because we’re influencers.”
The two were among the Knot’s featured couples for 2019. The program pays for trips for 10 to 20 selected couples, during which they get to meet each other and the Knot team, and discuss wedding planning. It was on the first of these trips that the Pearsons learned from other couples that they could use their influencer status to cut costs. “We had no idea we could partner with wedding vendors to get discounts, or even services completely free, in exchange for social media exposure on our pages,” Kelsey Pearson said. Plus, their weddings get exposure on the Knot’s platform, which is appealing to businesses.
They started asking vendors for discounts. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. “I reached out to multiple florists in Portland and we ended up going with the one that gave us the best deal,” Ms. Kelsey said. “Our caterers said no, but we went with them anyway.”
The photographer and videographer team they ended up using actually reached out to them to ask to shoot their wedding. “He basically was like, ‘This is normally like a $10,000 to $15,000 service, but this is the first gay wedding I’ve ever done and I really want me and my team to do it.’ We immediately said, ‘yes!’ We are so thankful he reached out and that we could mutually benefit each other.” A crew of five flying to Portland, Ore., and shooting the wedding and editing the photos ended up costing the Pearsons $1,200.
Influencers who do make deals with vendors still pay for some wedding services. Ms. Quinn and her fiancé, who isn’t an influencer, agreed that they would be willing to pay full price on certain aspects of their weddings that are more important to them. She estimates they will be partnering on 40 percent of their wedding in Ohio, which means that much will be comped or discounted in exchange for features on her social media platforms. In Italy, she thinks 10 percent will be similarly bolstered by brands.
These partnerships, though, can turn the wedding day into a workday. On top of all the typical wedding stress, there’s extra pressure in making sure couples meet all the agreements’ obligations.
“I made an entire list for our photographer of everything that needed to be photographed,” Kelsey Pearson said. Others, like Ms. Quinn, hire someone with a “partnerships checklist” to manage the agreements and photos required.
Many of the couples feel that since most of their wedding photos will be taken, edited and shared on social media anyway, why not get something out of it.
But for the Pearsons, there was another reason they were so intent on sharing their day with the world. “For me, I could never picture my wedding day growing up because I was figuring myself out,” Kelsey Pearson said. “And maybe there are young girls that were like me or any aged person who’s struggling with their sexual orientation or identity, if they can see a healthy relationship and a wedding that’s being celebrated with love all around them is possible, I wanted to share that.”