Social Media and Engagement Season

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Engagement season, the time when the majority of marriage proposals occur, runs between Thanksgiving and February 14th, with the big question being popped the most on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's Day. It is the time of year when brides (and increasingly, grooms) purchase every wedding magazine off the rack and scour the internet for the best wedding blogs and websites. This list gets culled over time, and the sites they ultimately choose to religiously follow are the ones that are the most inspirational and pragmatic to their own worldview and needs. In order to even make it to the chopping block though, your blog needs to be able to be easily found.

So how do you achieve that? Not by accident. It involves thoughtfully looking at where you want to go with your business as well as the type of clients you want to attract.

When I was planning weddings, I used social media as my primary marketing tool, and the blog played a huge role. Here is one example of how I leveraged the blog and the social networks I had built in order to build my brand and get more clients and revenue opportunities:

Know What You Want
In 2007, I knew that I wanted to grow the destination side of my business and to do that, I needed to get the word out that I would travel and produce weddings elsewhere. I had previous experience in destination weddings, but wanted to grow that part of my business to a point where it was profitable and worth not taking a wedding at home for. I also knew that simply posting "available internationally" was not going to do the trick, especially since everyone else had that on their site as well.

Another goal I had for my business was to expand the cities and markets my associate planners worked in. I knew that having greater brand recognition ("oh yeah, I've heard of them, they're great"), would make it much easier to open our doors in a new spot than if we were starting entirely from scratch and would allow us to charge our existing rates in those cities, regardless of what competitors were charging. (Sidenote: I have never been a fan of the idea that wedding pros should charge next-to-nothing just because they're new to town. Bills need to be paid: charge commensurate with what you feel is fair with your experience.)

Create A Plan
In order to help make those business goals happen, I decided to run a contest on my blog where the winner would receive month-of wedding planning services, regardless of where they lived in the United States. I didn't want the contest to have a sneaky or disappointing catch, so I decided I would also pick up the tab for my team's travel and accommodations. I did some math to figure what this would all cost me, and decided to devote a portion of my marketing budget to it.

I then set a date: the contest would launch on January 1st, 2008, the start of the new year and not coincidentally, within a week of three of the most popular days to get engaged. It would run for a month, then I would select three applicants and the blog readers would choose the winner from those three. The winning couple was announced on Valentine's Day.

I don't remember all the rules (though I intentionally kept them to a minimum), but I do remember that the couple had to be getting married in the United States, had to write a 300 word essay and send in a photo (so that readers could connect a face with a name), and couldn't already have a planner. I did not want to deal with the drama of someone firing their planner just so they could get a free one. I also decided that I wasn't going to make this a contest based on financial or medical related need; it would be open to anyone.

I also chose to use the contest as a way to subtly educate newly engaged brides on the cost of professional wedding planner. The industry as a whole was dealing with brides-turned-planners drastically undercharging for their services, and well, the cost of a good planner often includes some sticker shock. I included the planning services price value in the giveaway text and promotional materials so that brides reading my blog and the other blogs, could compare apples to apples when they interviewed their own planners later on.

Include Support In Your Plan
With the contest launch date set for January 1st, I decided to launch a series at the beginning of December called "30 Days To Plan A Wedding". For the month leading up to the contest announcement, I would provide professional tips and advice on the top 30 topics a couple needed to keep in mind while planning their nuptials: flowers, lighting, linen, officiants, catering, budgets, venues, etc. I was generous with the knowledge on the subjects as I posted. If a bride who perhaps couldn't afford a planner, could take the posts and ask her vendors better questions and thereby have a better wedding, that was fine by me. In fact, that was great! She was never going to hire a planner anyway.

But my motives for this 30 days series weren't altruistic. By the end of 2007, Google was indexing my site daily, and my posts would usually show up high in search results within a couple of hours. So for the month of December, a prime month during engagement season, when a bride is researching everything under the sun wedding related, my blog had fresh information on every major topic she would need to know. And it stayed fresh for the rest of engagement season, so when a bride found that page through a random Google search, she also saw the contest announcement pinned to the top of the page.

Running this series the month before my contest launched allowed me to set my blog up in a way that would organically attract more brides during the rest of engagement season.

Include Your Community
I had built some friendships with other bloggers as well and was active in the online wedding community, so on January 1st, I emailed a handful of them and asked if they would consider posting about my contest. I included a cute graphic that also had my blog's website on it, so readers could find my site should the image be separated from the post, because I knew a lot of the bloggers liked to include visuals with their posts. I also included some short, witty announcement copy so they could paste it into their post and not have to rewrite the details.

Because of the nature of the contest, word spread quickly and brides blogged about it (right-click saving the graphic so they could use it for their own posts and furthering my brand recognition) and talked about it in forums.

It would be unfair of me if I did not pause for a second to say that this particular method worked at the beginning of 2008, because the wedding blog world was MUCH smaller back then. Simply asking a blogger to post about something now isn't as easy, mainly because they are inundated with such requests all the time. It's also important to note that this worked because I had put in the time beforehand to build relationships with the other bloggers and never with the intention of getting anything from them. It just so happened that we turned into a community of friends helping each other out and spreading the word about our individual projects, and this was an opportunity for me to share mine. To this day, I am incredibly grateful for those ladies and am fiercely loyal to them.

The Results

  • The contest was blogged about on wedding blogs around the world, which not only sent new brides to my site, which many converted into loyal readers, but also created links that lived on in the archives of those sites, and helping my SEO.
  • The graphic helped promote brand recognition to the combined readers of all the sites it appeared on. 
  • More than a hundred brides sent in the application and many became devoted readers to the site. 
  • The three finalists asked all of their friends and family to vote. Studies show that the average bride has five bridesmaids, and three will be engaged within the next year. This strategy was also an opportunity to capture their attention before they were even actively looking to give it.
  • My destination wedding bookings increased and the ability for my associate planners to sell more easily increased as well. 
  • Two brides withdrew their applications because they decided to hire full-time planners instead to deal with all the details that were already beginning to overwhelm them. (Planners they happily paid a higher price for because I had been open about mine and they no longer had sticker shock.)
  • The execution of this strategy was part of the reason Rebecca Grinnals invited me to speak at the first Engage! conference in 2008, which led to other revenue opportunities and included me being able to meet people who are now some of my closest friends.
That's Great, Now What?
This has turned into a really long post, but I wanted to share all the steps, because this story is often followed with quite a few questions. I also wanted to share it in order to show the thought process, not so it can be emulated (and this idea may not work as well these days), but in the hopes that it may spark some creative ideas of your own. Ask yourself:
  • What do I want for my business in the next year?
  • How can I use the unique opportunities engagement season brings to help achieve those goals or desires?
  • How can I effectively leverage social media to help make those ideas happen?
Don't be concerned if you don't have an answer right away. Let your mind turn the questions over as you work on other things. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

Another thing: don't be concerned with what your competitors think of your ideas; they're not the ones writing you checks. As long as your plans are ethical and make sense for you, run with them and ignore the people who try to bring you down. I heard everything under the sun when I was doing this, including cheap shots at my personal life from people I barely knew. Other planners were livid that I was telling brides how to plan weddings in my 30 days series (I still maintain that if all it takes to replace you is someone figuring out your vendor questions and checklist, you have a weak business model to begin with). Still others wondered, out loud and to anyone who was passing by, how I could possibly have any weddings if I had time to blog.

I had time because I made time. Fortunately, that choice paid off and it still is. It can pay off for you, too.

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