If you want to be one of the first to see Prince George's Mother's Day card to Kate Middleton, or to get a glimpse of a never-before-seen photo of the Duchess as a baby, there's one thing you must do, and that's follow the royals on Instagram. Since the Queen opened a Twitter account in 2009, the Windsors have built an online following running into tens of millions and while it might seem very modern, the truth is it's as, if not more, effective for their 'brand' as garden parties and balcony appearances. You're just as likely to see breaking news on their accounts as a cute picture of little Prince Louis. The royal family's social media messaging is impeccable, and it allows the Firm to engage with their audience directly, without filters.
It's not just the use of new media but the consistent style that attracts followers. Matt Navarra, a social media expert and head of content at The Next Web, is impressed by the freshness and immediacy of their feeds. He praised the "very high-quality imagery. The royal family post lots of video clips accompanied by detailed descriptions in plain, interesting language for the widest possible audience appeal. They've ramped up their media presence. I actually think they do a really good job."
WATCH: The Cambridges shared this video of George, Charlotte and Louis clapping for the NHS
Amid the coronavirus pandemic these channels are being deployed more effectively than ever. A monarch who is one of the most travelled in history and who once said "I have to be seen to be believed" has been forced to cancel everything from the Japanese state visit to Easter church services. Social media is filling this vacuum.
READ: James and Ola Jordan introduce baby daughter and reveal her name
Nothing could convey 'keep calm and carry on' attitude more than this week's image of our indestructible 93-year-old sovereign conducting her weekly audience with the Prime Minister by phone – her vintage rotary model reminding us that Her Majesty's seen a fair few crises in her time.
The Queen shows us how to 'keep calm and carry on'
On Thursday, senior royals joined the nation in saluting NHS staff, with Prince George and his siblings looking particularly cute in a Kensington Royal video as they clapped enthusiastically. Before that came the Countess of Wessex's message of solidarity promoting online resources for quarantined families. Charmingly shot by Sophie's daughter Lady Louise Windsor, the video appeared to have been filmed in the chillout den of their home, Bagshot Park.
GALLERY: Inside the royal family's amazing home offices where they're self-isolating
Prince William's video in support of the National Emergencies Trust helped raise £12 million for its coronavirus appeal in one week while Princess Anne shared footage of a regiment of which she is colonel-in-chief delivering face masks to a hospital at 6am. And from his new home in North America, an emotional Prince Harry used Instagram to announce the postponement of the Invictus Games for wounded servicemen.
Her Majesty sent her first tweet in 2014
Her Majesty understood early on the effectiveness of new technologies to communicate with subjects. Her coronation in 1953 was televised in the face of doubts from Winston Churchill. When she sent her first personal tweet, signed Elizabeth R, at the Science Museum in 2014, director Ian Blatchford remarked that her reign had been marked by the use of new media. He told her: "You made the first live Christmas broadcast in 1957 and an event relished by historians took place on 26 March 1976, when you became the first monarch to send an email."
MORE: Kelly Brook shows off her two-stone weight loss
Then in 2000, Buckingham Palace launched a YouTube channel, after the concept was explained to the Queen by her granddaughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. Its first ever broadcast was rarely-seen silent newsreel footage of the 1923 wedding of her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Prince Charles was also a pioneer, becoming the first royal to chat to young volunteers via a live webchat on Google Hangouts. Using Google's maps feature, virtual visitors can also walk the corridors of his home, Clarence House, checking out the priceless art works and looking at the heir to the throne's personal family pictures.
A royal strategy designed to engage a younger global audience has produced stellar moments. Harry's mic-dropping antics with 'Granny', in which he challenged the Obamas over the Invictus Games, and William and Kate leaving hospital with Louis with the caption 'Welcome to the family', both went viral. Another inspirational moment was Harry taking an HIV test during a live broadcast on Facebook.
The Queen and Prince Harry's mic drop went viral at the time
Meghan Markle's time as a senior royal also heralded a more personal, imaginative use of social media within the palace. As an actress and blogger, she had given the world a front row seat to what she described as "inspired living and dreams coming true" through her website The Tig. Devotees were devastated in 2017 when she closed her personal social media, with a final message urging her "sweet friends" to "keep finding those Tig moments of discovery, laughing, taking risks and being 'the change you wish to see in the world'."
MORE: The Queen hires one of Harry and Meghan's former top aides
To the delight of Harry and Meghan fans, on 2 April 2019 the Sussexes left their shared platform with William and Kate and took over the reins of their social media, creating their own dedicated account. @Sussexroyal was born on Instagram, breaking records by gaining one million followers in five hours and 45 minutes, a figure that had risen to six and a half million within a month.
Sadly, there is a dark side to the excitement surrounding this online engagement. Last year, HELLO! exclusively reported that Kensington Palace was devoting a lot of resources to deleting abusive comments directed both to Duchesses Kate and Meghan and to other followers. To combat this the palace issued guidelines for commenting on their accounts, while we devised the #hellotokindness movement, which encourages users to think before posting and celebrates the positive aspects of social media.
The Sussexes shared this post after Archie's birth
The negativity didn't stop the Sussexes building an account that has become the virtual equivalent of a hug, with inspirational quotes and posts accompanied by upbeat music. It has allowed the duo to communicate in a way that more closely reflects their personalities – such as their joyous 'It's a BOY!' post – and the issues they've taken to their hearts. "Harry and Meghan have always wanted to reach people on a global level," is how friends summed up their mission.
This close personal posting relationship began on their former Kensington Palace feed, when the couple took us on the road for their tour of Australasia. There were posts shared in real time, often showing the viewpoint of Harry and Meghan themselves. We saw them taking in the crowds from their hotel in Fiji and experienced their incredible flag-waving welcome in Tonga via footage from the dashboard of their car. Another image showed the Prince practising for an Invictus Games speech watched by his adoring wife.
The Sussexes have shared personal photos with their fans
The most personal picture on their social media, one of many taken by Harry himself, showed a pregnant Meghan, with a quote from a famous suffragette. The Sussexes' platform took modernity a step further, with informal language and a liberal sprinkling of emojis. A chirpy message for the Queen's 93rd birthday read: "Happy Birthday Your Majesty, Ma'am, Granny. Wishing you the most wonderful day."
The Sussexes' mastery of social media owes much to the fact that Meghan is the first royal to have come of age professionally as it was taking off. She is fluent in the language and style of millennials, as she explained in 2016, describing the nuts and bolts of building her site, from devising the logo to writing opinion pieces. "My baby," she sighed, brimming with pride, adding this advice to other would-be bloggers: "Just leave room for the magic." It's a magic that we'll undoubtedly see more of from the royal family.
Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.