How social media became the most powerful tool in the British royal family's playbook
Meghan Markle is bringing her innate understanding of Instagram to the Sussex Royal account, and the rest of her husband's family are taking notes, writes Caitlin McBride
When there’s a merger of two great houses, anything is possible and in this case, it’s the British royal family’s bond with social media.
Since Meghan Markle - a former actress who had nearly three million followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before marrying Prince Harry - arrived on the scene, there has been a notable shift in tone in how royals present themselves online.
Kensington Palace has been active across channels for a number of years now, but it acted as more of an informal newsletter, supplementary to the traditional coverage the Cambridges (and Harry, before was Duke of Sussex) receive in newspapers and websites.
But Meghan, whose impressive numbers were bolstered by her relationship before eventually deleting all her private accounts, understands the importance of brand-building in the digital space. It wouldn't be out of line to say she was an influencer before she was a duchess.
She understands the importance of creating a unique tone across platforms, in particular Instagram, and since Sussex Royal launched in April, her voice is being heard the loudest.
“While Twitter is a brilliant platform for news sharing and live moments, Instagram is really where they can build their personal brand. They say a picture paints a thousand words and Instagram allows them to communicate with their audience in a highly visual way and present a particular image to the world,” says Angie Grant, Managing Director of Teneo, a Dublin-based communications agency.
“Social media allows the royal family to speak directly to their audience in a way that they have never been able to do before. It makes them seem more accessible and, in many ways, more relatable. The survival of the monarchy is intrinsically linked to its popularity so having a platform where they can showcase their work, manage their brand image and talk to their audience is hugely important for them.”
In particular, Meghan’s influence was evident in a post celebrating American Mother’s Day, sharing a picture of her baby son Archie’s feet with forget-me-not flowers in the background, the flower of choice of Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana.
It was not a coincidence.
Suits, on which Meghan starred for seven years before leaving to to marry her prince, is an undoubtedly popular show around the world, but it's not close to being in the upper tier of television. The fact that her social presence reached into the millions even before her royal link is a testament to her innate understanding of consumption online.
She produced The Tig, a lifestyle blog named after her favourite red wine Tignanello, which she launched in 2014. It was reminiscent of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop before other celebrities began following suit when they saw the money it could earn.
As any influencer worth their salt knows, reach is everything and now, with the eyes of the world on her, her reach is infinite.
“I think Meghan’s experience of running her lifestyle blog and Instagram given her a clear understanding of the power of Instagram and how to build a personal brand via social media,” Angie explains. “Prior to the Sussex Royal account, we saw the royals mainly use Instagram as a way to simply showcase the events they had attended on any given day.
“What we’re seeing with The Sussex Royal Instagram is a more strategic approach with a well thought-out content strategy which reflects their personal brand. From the imagery to the accompanying captions, it feels a lot more ‘influencer-esque’ and I definitely think that’s down to Meghan’s own experience and understanding of social media.”
Her influence goes beyond her family’s digital representation spreads to her in-laws as well: Kate Middleton and Prince William have upped their game since the Sussexes began giving them a run for their money.
It’s been less than two months since they launched and already, Meghan and Harry have only 600,000 fewer followers than the Kensington Palace account which has been in action for several years now.
The Cambridges pushed beyond the envelope, especially in publishing pictures of their children, of whom they are famously private in a bid to give them as normal an upbringing as possible.
After Kate’s garden display at the Chelsea Garden Show, six candid pictures were rolled out on Instagram (in addition to those issued by the photographers to newspapers and photo agencies around the world), including video footage of George, Charlotte and Louis playing.
They have also begun sharing Sussex-style long form captions with relevant images to highlight causes close to their hearts, in stark contrast to the sort of picture and caption style they adopted for so many years before.
Even Queen Elizabeth is hiring a new social media manager, advertising for an individual who will find "new ways to maintain The Queen's presence in the public eye and on the world stage" and the senior royals are investing heavily in their digital portfolios.
"Kate has always worked hard to be seen as relatable favouring high street brands and repeating outfits," Angie adds. "Now we’re seeing that brand strategy translate to the whole family. The latest posts of the family together at the Chelsea Flower Show are a great example of this.
"It felt very different from the content we have come to expect from the Kensington Royal account. A lot more personal and clearly designed to show that they are ‘just like any other family’. I think as they get to grips with the power of Instagram and how they can build their brand through social, we’ll see a lot more content like this in the future."