The use of social media as a way to inform and communicate is possibly one of the most significant developments of the last decade. It has become crucial to the way organisations operate and it allows people from all over the world to communicate and share content on a variety of different platforms, including Twitter and Instagram. The British Royal Family have also embraced the use of social media, and between them, there are several official social media accounts.
The Royal Family are represented on Twitter by their official account, which is currently ‘followed’ by 4.1 million people. The account, which was created in April 2009, provides ‘updates, pictures and videos from Buckingham Palace about the work activities of The Queen and members of The Royal Family’ (@RoyalFamily). Amongst the recent content shared on this account is The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019, photographs of the Royal Family attending church at Sandringham on Christmas morning, and a post wishing HRH Princess Alexandra, a cousin of HM The Queen, a ‘happy birthday’ on the 25 December. The account has published over 10,000 photos and videos, with many of the published posts ‘liked’ by thousands of people.
Official Twitter accounts also exist for Clarence House, which represents TRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall; Kensington Palace, which represents TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Royal Foundation, and an account which represents HRH The Duke of York. The accounts communicate updates of royal engagements, share content from the other royal accounts, and are also used to send seasonal greetings to their ‘followers’. They are also increasingly used for personal family announcements, such as royal births and engagements.
The Royal Family also use Instagram as a form of communication, with often the same photos and videos shared there as they are on Twitter. The accounts are hugely popular – the Kensington Palace Instagram page is followed by 10.5 million people, and the official account of TRH the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is followed by 9.9 million people. When this account was first set up earlier in 2019 (the couple had previously been represented by the Kensington Palace official accounts), it was followed by one million followers in less than six hours, breaking a Guinness world record.
Members of the Royal Family such as HRH Princess Anne and the TRH the Earl and Countess of Wessex do not have their own official accounts, and are represented by the Royal Family’s official social media accounts. HRH Princess Beatrice of York is represented on Twitter by an official account, and her sister, HRH Princess Eugenie of York, regularly posts on Instagram in an official capacity.
The use of social media by the Royal Family has revolutionised the way that they communicate with the public. Sharing pictures and videos in this way allows them to publicise their official engagements to great effect and share details of the charities that they support, which often has hugely beneficial implications for the charities and organisations they visit. It has become a method of interaction and support not only for the public, but for organisations connected with them, celebrities and even their family members. After the birth of Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, Earl Spencer ‘tweeted’ a public message of congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
When the Duchess of Sussex was in the later months of pregnancy with her son Archie, the hashtag ‘#globalsussexbabyshower’ began circulating on social media, having been started by a supporter of the Duchess to encourage donations to the charities supported by the couple. Three charities – CAMFED, WellChild and Mayhew – received a large number of donations and support from around the world.
The use of social media accounts allows the royals to regularly share content such as photographs on family birthdays or special occasions but also allows them to control what images are published, and in what order. On Christmas Day, the Kensington Palace account published a new photograph taken by the Duchess of Cambridge, of the Duke and their three children with the accompanying post sending festive greetings to their followers. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have also used their Instagram account to publish gradual photographs of their son Archie, since his birth in May. Princess Eugenie has published selected photographs from her wedding in October 2018 and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have regularly published new photographs of their children on their birthdays, or on occasions such as the first day of school.
Some posts have an added personal element – ‘tweets’ from the Kensington Palace Twitter account have occasionally included a ‘W’ to signify that Prince William has written a post, which has occurred most frequently in support of England football matches. Both the Cambridge and Sussex accounts have posted tributes to Princess Diana, either on significant anniversaries or in connection with their charity work.
Whilst social media engagement and interaction is largely overwhelmingly positive for the royal family, there can be an unpleasant side. In March, a press release announced that social media guidelines had been developed to ensure a safe environment on the social media accounts run by The Royal Family, Clarence House and Kensington Palace. These had been developed after it was revealed that staff at Kensington Palace had to deal with a large number of negative and abusive posts. The guidelines state that the aim of the accounts is to ‘create an environment where our community can engage safely in debate’ and warns that comments must not be defamatory, offensive, or promote discrimination. The press release further warned that comments may be reported to law enforcement agencies, where necessary.
The use of social media has great potential to alter perceptions of royalty itself. Social media has a world-wide reach and posts quickly accumulate thousands of ‘likes’ and re-posts or ‘re-tweets’, thus generating media attention. Many fan and tribute accounts have been set up, which allow people to share photos from official accounts, or to post photos of their own interactions with royals at official engagements. The accounts allow the royals to connect with people on a level not seen before, allowing us to share in some of the most special of occasions. The personal touch – whether sending congratulations or birthday wishes, thanking the public for their support, introducing new photographs to us or supporting their charities – allows the royal family to be more visible than ever and communicate with us like never before. Their posts mark key events in their royal and personal calendars, share royal traditions and allow them to connect with us in an invaluable way.