Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Queen takes Buckingham Palace online

This article was first published in marketing magazine.

The good folk of Google UK are steam cleaning the red carpet and practising their curtseys ahead of a visit by royal neighbours, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, this week.

According to Buckingham Palace “the Queen has always kept up to date with the latest technology” although when conferring an honorary knighthood on Bill Gates two years ago, Her Royal Highness let on that she hadn’t yet used a computer.

This hasn’t stopped the house of Windsor’s technological advances though. Last year she became Google’s first royal client, launching her YouTube channel, whose production team she will be meeting when she visits.

Viewers can see videos of this year’s blackcurrant harvest at Sandringham, and catch up on Swan Upping news (fascinating interview with the Queen’s Swan Marker), whilst revisiting old favorites like the 1957 Christmas Broadcast (a million views so far).

Remarkably – if you’re a bit bah-humbug about this sort of thing – it’s pretty popular stuff. The channel exceeded the US President’s White House channel’s daily viewing figures, with nearly 400,000 people visiting it in its first two days, and it continues to trounce Queen Rania of Jordan’s channel with more than twice as many subscribers.

To date the Royal Channel has notched up over 22,000 subscribers, making it the 18th most popular on YouTube, and joining an array of other new media ventures from what HRH calls ‘the firm’, including a podcast of the Christmas Broadcast, a website and an ecommerce venture selling tickets online for visits to royal residences and galleries.

Odd though it might seem for an operation that surrounds itself with people who dress in 19th century outfits, the Royal Family are no strangers to technology. Back in 1980, Prince Philip was at the centre of one of the earliest hacking controversies, when his email account was accessed by two journalists.

So how much of her time does the Queen really spend online? What would a peek at her digital media diary look like?

It is reported that the Queen mastered emailing in the last couple of years and now has a Blackberry so that she can keep in contact with the family while on the move. The Duke of York, the most tech savvy of her heirs, also suggested that her senior aides be equipped with Blackberrys too. And William bought her an iPod two years ago, on which she reportedly stores the Last Night of the Proms.

Last year’s Christmas message was uploaded onto You Tube almost 50 years to the day that her message was broadcast for the first time on TV. Perhaps presciently, the theme of the 1957 speech was technology: “I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct”.

So whilst many would have thought the Queen more silver salver than silver surfer, there’s no doubting The Firm’s determination to reach out using whatever tools come to hand.

The death of deference, particularly in the mainstream media, means the royals share a common objective with politicians, companies and celebrities, to get a message across to the public without editorial interference.

It’s hardly the stream of consciousness ramblings that we’re used to from the blogosphere, but professionally-produced content albeit with a slightly homemade feel. Video captions look like they were produced at home, but there’s a clear strategy here. Show the royals in action – visiting troops, supporting community development, helping charities.

No video footage of junior ranks falling out of Mahiki here – it’s all hard-working nobles, designed to build confidence in the monarchy as a solid, practical and valuable part of UK plc.

Google are used to visits from CEOs who don’t get digital but are keen for the association. But as Googlers stand by their beanbags to show the Queen around, they’ll be welcoming a business that’s seized the web with both hands.

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