137 years ago, on 14 January 1878, Queen Victoria became one of the first people to see Professor Alexander Graham Bell’s brand new invention in action. Bell’s demonstration of the telephone, which took place at Osborne House, was a roaring success, and it went on to become one of our history’s greatest inventions. Indeed, years later, its widespread usage helps us all to function on a daily basis. The technologies that have come about as a result of Bell’s genius allow this article to be read from across the globe over a multitude of different screens, platforms and devices.
Just as Queen Victoria embraced technology all those years ago, today’s royals have had to adapt to a whole new set of inventions. Moving with the times for fear that, if they don’t, they’ll be left behind, and their relevance in modern society diminished. Arguably, our current Queen has had the biggest task when technology is involved, especially when that technology relates to the internet and its various uses.
The Queen beat everybody to the internet, especially her fellow heads of state. In March 1976, she sent her first email during a visit to a British Army base. 30 years later she would click send once again when she emailed 23 young people from across the world – all of whom had written blogs about their experiences of life within the Commonwealth.
By the time Her Majesty sent that first email, she’d already made a few royal technological firsts. She’d allowed TV cameras into Westminster Abbey for her Coronation in 1953. A few years later she made the first live Christmas Broadcast on TV in 1957. During which she noted: “That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us.”
But 1997 marked one of the biggest milestones in royal web history. The launch of the British Monarchy website, in all its technicolour glory, was designed to run with a screen size of 800 x 600 pixels. The website was a fry-cry from today’s sleek and well-designed webpages. At the time, it was a big step forward and provided an informative, accessible and an authoritative resource for those wanting to find out more about the Monarchy and the Royal Family. The background of the website, an appropriate regal purple, matches the colour of The Queen’s racing silks, worn by jockeys riding her race horses.
For 10 years, it served as the Monarch’s only online presence until The Queen launched the first Royal YouTube channel in December 2007. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of The Queen’s first televised Christmas Broadcast, the launch marked another technological first for the royal household. It paved the way for a new royal social media presence that, at the time, was still a very new phenomenon.
Only a month before, the very first iPhone had been released in the UK, and Twitter was still in its infancy, having launched the previous year. The Royal Channel on YouTube remains a place for people to watch hundreds of monarchy-related videos from coverage of royal engagements to rare interviews with members of the Royal Family. Eight years after its arrival, the Channel’s most popular videos are from the wedding celebrations of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with the complete coverage of the wedding being watched over 2.4 million times.
Two years later, in 2009, it was time for an update all around. The website was beginning to look dated, and changes were needed to keep the site up to date. A lot had changed since 1997, and new technologies were becoming common place on websites. With over 250,000 people visiting the site every week, simple navigation was the aim and, working in tandem with creative consultancy Bang Communications, the palace had put together a website designed for the new digital age. More user-friendly, the site utilised some new technological features.
Google Maps was integrated with the Royal Diary of Engagements, allowing people to see where royal engagements would take place. The Royal Channel on YouTube was incorporated into the site, and a password protected Media Centre was added, allowing the press to access specific media information. The update was also the first time that a new module had been added to allow job applicants to apply online, as opposed to through the post – cutting down on costs for the palace.
It was also time for the Royal Household to take a further plunge into the world of social media. Before now, the official announcement of royal engagements had been limited in their reach – only those with access to the website could know in advance the events and engagements on the royal calendar. It was necessary for the royals to embrace change to maintain relevance in the 21st century. Twitter, now growing in worldwide popularity particularly amongst young people, was the obvious choice for a new venture. And so, in April 2009, the @BritishMonarchy account was launched, giving people the latest updates on upcoming engagements along with pictures, video and details of royal history.
Much of the change and adaptions within the royal household has come from The Queen, ever aware that in order for the monarchy to survive, it must continue to relate to the people it serves. Social media was no different. Buckingham Palace’s digital foray was just the first step for the royal family. Prince Charles and Camilla’s office at Clarence House followed suit with their @ClarenceHouse account in October 2010 and Prince Andrew, @TheDukeOfYork, joined Twitter in 2013, using the site as a platform to aid his digital skills initiatives.
Facebook, like Twitter, was storming the digital world. Launched in 2004, it had now grown to have over 450 million active users. Small businesses were reaping the benefits of having a global audience and advertisers were lining up to use the platform to reach the masses. After The Queen made a visit to the Research in Motion’s headquarters on her trip to Canada in July 2010, Her Majesty’s office set about creating a page on the world’s most popular social networking site.
On 8 November 2010, at 08:00, The Queen’s official Facebook page went live. Within an hour it had attracted over 40,000 likes, with users keen to be one of page’s followers. Acting as a hi-tech version of the Court Circular along with providing followers with a way of keeping up to date with the latest royal news, the page completed the trio in terms of the most popular social networks. The British Monarchy now had a presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube – all accompanied by their own website.
But the Household certainly hasn’t stopped there. March 2010 saw the launch of a British Monarchy Flickr account, giving the world an insight into the colourful work that the royals do each and every day. One might argue that Flickr has fallen out of trend, particularly since mobile platforms have become more widely used and accessed. That might be a sentiment that the palace is aware of, seeing as the popular mobile photo app, Instagram, welcomed the British Monarchy just last year.
Of course, every day the digital world is becoming an increasingly crowded place and it would be foolish for the palace to try to have a presence on every single social platform out there. After all, this is an institution which, although more at ease with adapting to modern life now, still likes to take baby steps and a world where ‘tried and tested’ is still far more favoured over newer methods.
As she approaches 90, there are not many royal firsts left for The Queen, she’s sent emails, tweeted personally and is said to be well-versed in the art of Googling. One can’t imagine, however, that we’ll see Her Majesty appearing on a Snapchat story or Periscoping from the palace any time soon.
But, changes are certainly afoot in the Royal Household when it comes to a web presence. Kensington Palace is a prime example of a well- planned and executed social media strategy. Over recent months, with the plethora of news stemming from Princess Charlotte’s birth and christening and the ever-present media storm surrounding Prince George, Kensington Palace have cleverly captured the mood of the day.
William and Catherine’s team are keen to keep their online followers happy, albeit at the frustration of traditional news outlets (often reporters are now pipped to the post when it comes to making announcements on social networks). Princess Charlotte’s official christening photos went out first on Instagram and Prince George’s second birthday photo was announced on Twitter in a similar vein.
Although it may anger and frustrate some, it is simply a way of the times. As we look forward to the next generation of royals, those who will usher in new ways and technologies, we can see Prince William has surrounded himself and his family with a young staff. Such a move creates a distance between himself and the traditional palace old guard and serves as a way of ensuring the new trends get taken advantage of in the best way. It maintains their relevance in a thoroughly modern and digital world. News simply spreads faster online and the intense global interest in the British Monarchy is only aided by the Internet and its many social platforms.