Good riddance to Zoom weddings. But tech is still changing the way we marry.

The Knot’s Esther Lee talks wedding hashtags, metaverse marriages and the rise of the Tesla getaway car.

Bride and groom

Weddings last a day, but great wedding pictures are forever.

Photo: Edward Cisneros/Unsplash

After two years of pandemic-induced cancellations, postponements and overall chaos, the wedding industry is back. The Knot estimates that there will be 2.6 million weddings in the U.S alone in 2022, about half a million more than a typical year. As we’ve all gotten used to hybrid meetings and Zoom happy hours, has tech changed weddings forever, too?

Not really, said Esther Lee, a senior editor and wedding expert at The Knot. But tech is changing the way people plan their weddings in a big way, from vendor searches to wedding gifts to the all-important wedding hashtag.

Lee joined the Source Code podcast to talk about Zoom weddings, getting married in the metaverse, how Teslas became the hot getaway car and much more.

You can hear our full conversation on the latest episode of the Source Code podcast, or by clicking on the player above. Below are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

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Your study showed that there will be 2.6 million weddings this year in the U.S. alone, way up from previous years. I'm sure a lot of these weddings are weddings that were supposed to happen last year or two years ago. Is the goal just to get back to what weddings were before we were all forced to be inside for two years? Are there going to be new things that stick around post-pandemic?

So numerically, we are actually back to pre-pandemic numbers in terms of the events that are being thrown, the average cost, the guest counts. Those are all back to what it looked like previously. However, I do think that the way that we are planning events now, planning weddings, and also experiencing weddings — that will change due to what we have experienced as a society collectively over the last two years.

Planning is the big one. Most couples are already getting a move on their planning, just because it's such a busy season. 2023 is also going to be busy from the spillover. And so many begin with digital — and a lot of that begins with The Knot, which is why I guess I'm here today, because we are the No. 1 wedding planning app and service and tool. We just really believe that couples have to have it easy when they approach the wedding planning process. It shouldn't be this scary, daunting thing. Instead, we want to be your friend, we want to provide access and we also want to make it easy by connecting couples to the best-in-class vendors in the business.

So the best place to begin is digitally, and you look up their ratings and their reviews, see what their work looks like. Social media, of course, has a huge play these days, with how couples are planning: just, you know, gathering inspiration. And so that's the first component, right? But what we saw during COVID was that 96% of weddings had to be modified in some form. And so they have to adopt these behaviors, including virtual components, whether you had Grandma from across the country Zooming into your wedding or you sent out favor boxes. Something really creative that I saw was a couple sending out meals that were in this really cute box to guests who couldn't make it in person, which I thought was a very thoughtful touch.

But to give you an exact statistic: 17% of all couples are adding a virtual component to their weddings, even in 2021, according to our study.

I wondered about that! I've been to Zoom weddings of the last couple of years: They always seemed like kind of the last resort, right? But then I was reading that the livestreamed, hybrid wedding approach seems to be a thing that's going to stick around; even if you're going to have weddings in person with lots of people, that you still might set up a camera so that other people can watch it on Zoom. Is that just going to be a thing?

I think that for the most part, weddings are about the in-person experience. You want to be on that dance floor, belting out Celine Dion lyrics at the top of your lungs. But I would say, in this case, there are some lingering effects. For example, let's say that you have relatives who live halfway across the world, and we're still dealing with some border issues when it comes to travel and restrictions. And so in those cases, a virtual component just makes sense, because that whole entire family won't necessarily be able to travel.

But for the most part, we're seeing that couples are just moving ahead with having in-person formats, and really leaning into that, with the exception of being mindful of maybe the elderly guests or those who just aren't able to make it in person.

I’ve always been fascinated by wedding hashtags, which are a deeply bizarre thing that also make total sense. And I know this is the thing that The Knot has spent some time working on and thinking about. So tell me how people think about photos at weddings now.

So we're finding that half of all couples actually create a wedding hashtag. And there are services out there that you pay to have a wedding hashtag created for your name, which really shows just how much people value this idea of branding their wedding. Which is why wedding websites are also so essential to so many couples, because it's the first step to your wedding as a brand. It’s not what you're saying to your guests, but you are presenting something to your loved ones.

I can’t decide if I feel icky about that or not, that a wedding should have a brand.

I like it, because so much is happening digitally. If you’re representing you as your relationship and your wedding that's to come, it's an opportunity to build sentiment, get people excited, really let them into your love story or let them into your favorite bars or restaurants when they come to visit town.

So let's say you're having a bunch of out-of-towners flying to New York for the weekend. Could you introduce them to some of your favorite date-night spots on your wedding website? And so to me, that's a nice branding play. It's an opportunity to market your love story to your loved ones.

But with hashtags, I wanted to go back to this because it's really interesting. As people are considering these services, there's also the flip side: There are also these “unplugged weddings,” as we call them, where couples or the officiant will ask guests to put their phones away during the ceremony, because you want that presence. And so then I watch couples eventually say, “Yeah, during the reception, go crazy, have a good time with your phone.” So it's really about what your expectations are as a couple, and how you want guests to behave and the etiquette around that.

Then there's the question of: Where do I put all of those photos? I've been to weddings where they set up a shared Google Photos thing that everybody could upload to. There’s obviously the Instagram hashtag thing. But then I've heard people ask questions about, “Well, if I'm taking pictures of somebody else's wedding, should I put that on my feed? Does that go into Stories?” There's so many calculations you have to make about all of this stuff now.

Social media does add a layer of wanting to share, wanting to let people in. I don't know if you're seeing this trend too, but disposable cameras are coming back into play at weddings, because it gives us retro vibes and a really fun experience for your guests to be like, “Oh, wait, I haven't clicked one of these in forever.”

And finally, I firmly still believe in photo booth experiences. And I'm saying “experiences” because photo booths have inherently changed. It's no longer like, let me get a mustache stick and pose with it. It could be a 360[-degree] panoramic camera experience, or a fly-by camera. But there's so many different photo-collecting methods now that I think couples, if they want to lean in, they have so many options.

Are drone photographers becoming a thing? Like, I'm hiring a photographer, videographer and a drone operator to do my wedding.

Yeah, some of the top wedding photographers, the luxury ones that I've seen in the market, actually have a package now for drone photography. And it’s highly requested. Because, let's say you're having a 300-person wedding, and it's in an outdoor garden overlooking the ocean, or whatever it is. Wouldn't you want to memorialize what that ceremony looks like from an aerial shot?

Are there other things like that, where these high-tech things are creeping into weddings? Are people doing collaborative Spotify playlists for their music? What else are you seeing?

Well, my best friend got married last fall upstate. And her husband, a week in advance, sent out a form that said, “Please drop all of your song requests in here.” So that was cool.

I’m seeing Tesla as getaway cars. Like a white Tesla, a sleek getaway car, it really shows where we’re going as a society.

You know what’s really fun lately? Wearable tech. A lot of couples are getting high-end bands for Apple Watches as wedding gifts, to further the discourse. There’s this brand that I love, Lagos, and they have these beautiful Watch bands that are being gifted as wedding gifts. There’s so much.

Everybody's talking about the metaverse, even though nobody knows what the metaverse is. VR seems cool, but I can't imagine we're all gonna go to a wedding and wear VR headsets, and I'm not sure that putting on a suit and then putting on my VR headset is ever going to feel like the same thing as going to a wedding. One thing I thought was very cool a while ago was people not doing wedding hashtags, but doing wedding filters for their photos on Snapchat or whatever. But as you look at all of this next-decade, out-there future tech stuff, is any of it interesting or exciting to you along those lines?

Oh, it's so interesting. I think especially with social media’s emergence, and then also AR and VR now coming into play, I think we're going to see it first impact how couples are planning.

Think about couples who are going shopping, but you can now visualize the size of a diamond on your hand with some of these platforms, which I think is so interesting. What will that look like down the line? We're still going to need the physical items, but what will the experience of planning and shopping look like? And so that's something I'm really excited to see evolve over the next decade. And I do think that, eventually, that will filter over to the wedding day, just a tiny sliver. But I think weddings have really always been in-person celebrations. For millennia! Let's celebrate the gathering of two people who have found love. And I don't think that element will necessarily go away, ever.

So you're not buying that we're all going to be getting married in the metaverse in five years.

If that's something that you choose, and that's personal to you, and you believe in that, then sure. I've seen couples get married in the metaverse already!

But I do think the planning process is where we're going to see the biggest shifts. I'm curious to see even how DeFi and crypto and all of this will come into play with how people are paying for their wedding. And I already know of some jewelers in the game who are receiving cryptocurrency for payments.

What about TikTok? I just ask everybody about TikTok because I feel like TikTok is totally blowing up every industry all the time. Is TikTok coming for the wedding industrial complex too?

TikTok is already influencing weddings! It's called WedTok.

Something that I kind of foresee happening over the next maybe two to five years is this importance in sound. TikTok has changed the music industry because one viral sound on TikTok can blow up the song on the charts. So how will we interact with sound with weddings, with engagements and proposals, and how will that influence the virality of music and also the unique sounds that we're creating as humans?

There’s also just clearly the shift to video. I didn't get a wedding video when we got married because we were kind of like, why? When are we going to watch our wedding video? And now my sense is that it’s the obvious thing to do. We're just in such a video world now. And now you see all these fit videos of dances at weddings — when I got married, we were all just doing like the cupid shuffle. And now everybody knows all the TikTok dances, so it's like a musical the whole night.

There's a lot going on. But I do think that TikTok is here to stay and that more and more users will adopt it. And video certainly is of utmost importance to Gen Z, and Gen Z is now of marrying age. The oldest crop is 26 this year, and so they will influence how weddings are thrown, how weddings are experienced. And I think video will be a huge component of that.

Weddings, I think, are turning into something that's more personal. That's where it really comes into play. Every step of it right, even down to the proposal: Do you hire a proposal videographer now versus a photographer? What kind of late-night snack are you going to get? And I think that each decision has become so personal in this day and age, and that will only continue.

They used to say that about 30 years ago, 20 years ago even, weddings were so cookie-cutter. And if you look back on photos from that time, you see the same white cakes, you see the same-pattern white dresses. Now everything's changing. And I think that's what makes a wedding really special: It is an extension of you and your love story. That’s what weddings should be.

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