It’s often said that social media is ‘all about the conversation’ but, no matter what the pundits suggest, just as often it is about observation. As Royal Wedding fever kicks in, nowhere is the art of engagement through observation more evident than in the British Monarchy’s use of social media.
The Queen’s cohorts have always been quick to embrace technologies that help them connect with the Commonwealth from the early use of radio and television, right through to the 2007 launch of the Royal Family’s YouTube channel and this year’s ‘all-the-bells-and-whistles’ Royal Wedding website.
If you love the Royals, you can follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, keep up to date with last minute wedding preparations via @ClarenceHouse or check out their photostream on Flickr. Since 2007, the Royals have added a social network nearly every year – YouTube first, then Twitter in 2009, then Flickr and Facebook in 2010. This week’s wedding will be a very 21st Century affair in all aspects of its delivery, streaming through every channel you can think of and complete with its own #rw2011 hashtag (although I do keep confusing it with the Rugby World Cup hashtag)
The noteworthy element for those of us in public relations and communication management is that with very little direct engagement the Royal Family has created online an active, supported, shared and well-liked brand that has remained undamaged by social media participants. They may not ‘talk back’ much, but as one who was around when Charles and Diana married they have certainly grasped the art of ‘letting go’ their information, allowing their story to be shared as directly as possible. Any collateral damage has come about through mainstream media coverage of ‘The Firm’, rather than online conversations and interactions of recent years. Spoof accounts are largely ignored (although it would be great to think the real Queen Elizabeth secretly follows fake royal account – Queen_UK – on Twitter) and, if you analyse commentary elsewhere (which I’ve done), it is largely positive in sentiment and contribution.
Traditional brands and organisations are often frightened to venture into social media mainly because it represents unchartered waters, breaks uncomfortably from the ‘norm’ and they don’t know what to do or how to handle ‘the conversation’ etc., etc.. You can’t get a more ‘traditional’ brand than the Royal Family but in many ways it has shown the way to others who remain timid about jumping in. The Royal Family has had a go and reaped dividends in terms of countering the highly negative images portrayed in mainstream media. ‘Conversation levels’ might not be what the pundits would wish for but social media channels fill a communications gap for millions who want to engage, appreciate – or be critical.
Online ‘rules’ are still being forged as people evolve and develop in the space. They are certainly not finite. This is obviously a great match for monarchy given they’ve made up the rules of engagement with ‘subjects’ for centuries. If there is a valuable lesson to be learned from royal involvement in social media it is this: don’t be afraid to have a go, be authentic and true to your brand or organisation and, if you need to make it up as you go along, try that too, knowing you will have to adjust your course depending on conditions.
The royal engagement with social media may not be a life-long match but it certainly moved a huge bunch of stakeholders a little nearer to the throne. And that has to be worth a celebratory dance or two…