You're Not Imagining It, Will and Kate Have a Whole New Vibe on Social Media
Yes, the royals have been a bit extra lately. It's called a rebrand.
During the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's royal tour of Scotland in May, their official Instagram account shared a video of William teasing Kate for her amateur DJ skills. As Kate toys with a touchpad to create what can be called "beats" only in the most technical sense of the word, Prince William can be heard saying playfully, "Please, turn it off." The video went viral.
The moment between the university sweethearts who just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary was funny and nauseatingly adorable. But what struck me, a more-than-casual observer of the royal family, was not Will's couple-y banter. It was the fact that the clip was posted to Instagram in the first place.
Save for birthdays and special occasions, which they mark with pretty, formal portraits with plastered grins, I wondered if the Cambridges had ever posted such intimate, flirty moments between them. Isn't that more Meghan and Harry's thing?
A cynic through and through, I found it hard to believe that there wasn't a strategic effort on the part of the Cambridges to begin placing their relationship and family at the forefront of their social media presence. Photos of their three children and of Will and Kate showing affection tend to be among their most-liked posts, and their feed has recently been flooded with them. For their anniversary, for example, they posted two couple portraits in a row, as well as a video montage of their family roasting marshmallows (the video has 8.6 million videos, almost triple that of their usual posts). Coupled with the context of years of scandals which all seemed to have come to a head this spring, the tone shift reads as a strategy to make the Cambridges more palatable and relatable — a play to get back in the good graces of the public following accusations of racism from unnamed members of the family, questions around Prince Andrew's involvement in a sex-trafficking scandal, and even the tabloid-fueled rumor that Prince William had had an affair.
Neither Rachel Bowie nor Roberta Fiorito, co-hosts of the Royally Obsessed podcast, are so sure if this seeming switch from distant, manufactured, social presence is as suspicious as the narrative that I've latched onto, though. Instead, they attribute the tone switch to pressure indirectly stemming from the Sussexes's immaculate social media game, as well as a recent hire.
When Meghan and Harry left the royal family, Bowie notes, their former social media director, David Watkins, joined the Cambridges' team. It was at this point, about a year ago, that Bowie and Fiorito noticed a change in content on @KensingtonRoyal, which was rebranded as @DukeandDuchessofCambridge this April.
"Everything felt more produced on their social media accounts," says Bowie. "It felt like they were doing a lot of experimentation, throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks." Some of those experiments included: Will performing a "funny" skit alongside actor Stephen Fry to encourage the applause for frontline workers last year; in January, Kate posted an intimate selfie-angle video to discuss mental health; a gimmicky "POV" post following the journey of a bag of cookies to the Australian and New Zealander High Commissions offices. Last month, we caught a rare glimpse at Will's arm as he was vaccinated, inciting thirst from fans and myself alike. Then there was the Scotland trip, which featured the aforementioned couple moment, as well as an equally viral photo of the pair land yachting, which looks as bizarre as it sounds.
Following the death of Prince Philip in early April, the account's profile picture — an image of the couple and their three kids — was swapped for their "WC" black-and-white monogram. Recently, they switched to a photo of Will and Kate sans kids, standing with their arms around each other, apparently caught in laughter.
Whether all this has been strategic or just their natural charm, it's working.In just two months' time, they have reached 500,000 new followers, jumping from 12.3 million to their current 12.8 million.
The couple also launched a YouTube channel in early May, that, save for the intro video featuring Will and Kate speaking confessional-style to the camera about the channel's launch, has thus far served as a showcase for Kate's photo book, Hold Still, which features portraits of frontline workers taken by the British public during the pandemic. "It feels like they are making a big push to appeal to a modern generation and tap into the popularity of William and Kate," Bowie adds.
Fiorito points to a 1969 documentary meant to show the royal family's personality behind closed doors, released at the behest of the late Prince Philip as a move with a similar motivation: using media to humanize the family and endear the Queen's successor, a then-21-year-old Prince Charles, to the public.
Some royal spectators have wondered aloud if it will be William, not Charles, that will succeed Queen Elizabeth II, especially given that Charles' popularity hovers at around just 50%, roughly 20% lower than his mother. Fiorito and Bowie find this theory highly unlikely, though they do believe that Will and Kate will play a large role as the face of the monarchy, traveling, as they did to Scotland, to touch base with their subjects in a face-to-face capacity.
As much as British folks may prefer Prince William to Prince Charles, Fiorito and Bowie say it's Kate who is the monarchy's "secret weapon."
"I feel like it really is the 'Kate Middleton show' a little bit, because I do think people are so, so drawn to her and are so mesmerized," Fiorito explains. "Obviously the fashion is fun, to see what she's wearing all the time, but she's also so charismatic." She points to recent gossip that Kate is the peacemaker of the family, tasked with mitigating the tension between Harry and William. "She's the glue that's holding everyone together," she continues. "She's tirelessly working at doing all these events, doing all these tours. She's nonstop." A woman keeping it all together while the men bicker amongst themselves? Relatable.
As to whether the Sussexes' interview with Oprah played a role in the new social strategy, the co-hosts don't see a strong argument for causation. "They've been gradually upping the ante on doing more of these creative posts," says Bowie. Any correlation between the amount of content being produced and the fallout from the interview, Fiorito notes, is likely a coincidence given that Kate was promoting her book project after its late-March release.
"I felt before that interview that they had been trying to do a lot," says Fiorito. "But I do think, probably with that bombshell interview, they know that everyone's watching — and now they're continuing to step up their game."