Engage! 09 Something Blue was a fascinating conference held earlier this year at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, dedicated to promoting interaction between wedding industry professionals. The event is a regularly held luxury wedding seminar that is quickly becoming a must-attend in the diaries of those in the know. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull was in attendance and reports.
Three women who have built successful careers within America’s highly lucrative wedding industry were on hand during Engage! 2009 to discuss the importance of social networking within the wedding industry. Lara Casey, publisher of Southern Weddings magazine; Bee Kim, founder of the website WeddingBee.com and Liene Stevens, founder of Splendid Communications! an online media consultancy serving the wedding and event industries, joined forces to educate the audience on how blogging and social networking should not be perceived as high tech flights of fancy but more as vehicles by which people can properly communicate and have meaningful conversations.
Each speaker had their own success story to share with the audience. Bee Kim started her wedding blog WeddingBee.com as a way of communicating on a regular basis with those people interested in her own wedding in 2005. In 2006 she said the website became so successful that it was a standalone business, which she eventually sold in 2008 to the online matchmaking company eHarmony. Bee said she still blogs for the site on a regular basis and has control over its content.
Liene Stevens uses her media consultancy to assist other companies within the wedding business to maximise their online presence to increase their productivity goals, while Laura Casey said social networking had revolutionised her own business, which started out as a tiny operation in Pensacola Florida showcasing local wedding vendors. The magazine became a nationwide platform advising brides-to-be and has a daily blog filled with beautiful weddings photos as well as a host of adverts for wedding service vendors.
Laura said: “Social networking, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter bridged the connection for us between the wedding services on offer and those wanting to use the services. It opened doors, yet I believe nothing beats face-to-face contact with clients.”
Bee Kim said she always knew she wanted to write a blog about weddings but initially she found it extremely difficult to find a voice. “It was important for me to find a message and put it out there so people would read it,” she said. She also cautioned:
“I don’t think social networking should be considered a silver bullet for any business. You need to be talented in the first place. Social networking merely amplifies what you already have. It can be a cheap method of personal public relations whereby you create your own buzz. Social networking allows you to build your own business overnight, when previously it might take ten years to get it to the same level. It allows you to build relations, trust and transparency with your clients.”
Bee had a word of warning for first time bloggers: “Blogging is not for everyone. You need to update your blog regularly to retain interest.”
Laura agrees: “To make social networking work for your business you need consistency. You need to focus on one thing until it takes off.”
Laura said that social networking allows individuals to go back to old fashioned values. “Tweeting and blogging takes people back to the times when companies actually knew their clients and had a relationship with them,” she confirmed. “Social networking humanises the user.”
The panel examined the pros and cons of the individual methods of social networking and agreed that Facebook was actually on a downward slide when it came to using it professionally.
Liene said: “Facebook blurs the boundaries and tries to do too many things for too many people. You need to ask yourself some hard questions when you use social networking. What is the story I’m trying to put out? Do I have a firm stance on my brand? (Blogs should reiterate your brand.) How comfortable am I knowing the exposure my blog will receive? And you must choose to be remarkable. Think about all of the above as business tools.”
The panel suggested analysing who reads a user’s blogs by employing the use of Google Analytics to find out the source of traffic to the website. They also suggested commenting on other blog sites to make a connection to a user’s own site. They also said that web sites within the wedding industry were image-driven, thus great photography was an absolute must for success. Including a biography and photo of the author was also very important to create that immediate familiar link with the reader.
Bee summed up: “Think about what you are good at, utilise it and tell people about it in an interesting way.”