How Westminster Abbey Created Worldwide Audience Engagement Around the Royal Wedding With Online and Social Media

Imogen Levy

Imogen Levy, Online Editor, Westminster Abbey, gave us a fascinating look at the preparations for the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, 2011.  The Abbey staff had one hour’s advance notice ahead of the public of the selection of the Abbey as the venue for the wedding and dropped all other projects to redesign the Abbey’s website and build an app for the wedding.

The Abbey is a “royal peculiar” meaning that it comes directly under the administration of the Queen.  It is both a living church and a tourist attraction and is known as the church of the monarchy.  It has hosted 16 royal weddings and all Coronations since 1066.  Over 3,000 people are buried or memorialized in the Abbey.

The Royal Wedding was the biggest event of the year. There were many unanswered questions, lots of pressure, and nothing previous for comparison.  Flexibility and confidence were crucial.  Since the lead time was only 6 months, decisions had to be made quickly.  Levy worked with the Buckingham Palace web team and hosts of website to redesign the Abbey website.  The questions to be answered included how many people would access the site, what devices would they use, should the Abbey website capture these new audiences, how should social media be exploited, and what will be the impact on the hosting organization.

New media played a huge and significant role in the success of the event; this was the wedding of the Internet generation.  The Royal Wedding has been confirmed as a record breaker, with over 72 million views and the most live streams of a single event.

The website was developed using an open source content management system. Levy recoded the website herself to accommodate mobile devices.  The design is responsive and automatically adjusts to user’s device, allowing a single template to be used for all devices. On wedding day, mobile access was 20% of entire hits (normally it is about 5%).  Mobile access to the Abbey site has increased 900% over the last 12 months.

The hosting was changed cloud hosting so as to be scalable and elastic and to cope with a sudden spike in traffic.  This had the advantages of:

  • Ability to scale without needing to pre-plan usage.
  • Ability to scale costs–pay as you go with no upfront costs.
  • Ability to set up the solution in a few hours.

Cloud hosting was very successful. On the wedding day, the site received 5,000 hits/second and went down for only about 3 minutes during the day. There were over a million page views during the service.  Users were able to access the site quickly and efficiently.

 

Levy also launched an app allowing a 3D view of the Abbey. She took photos of behind the scenes preparations and used a laser scanner to produce a 3D model of the Abbey accessible on a phone (Abbey 3D) and is now working on v.2 to incorporate audio guide and website.

Levy did live tweets on the wedding day which gave people unusual content and received lots of media coverage. She followed the principle that if you are going to have a Twitter account, make it fun and give it personality. She responded live to people during the service. The Twitter feed went from 2,000 to 13,000 followers in 5 minutes.

Here are the lessons learned from this effort.

 

 Future work includes:

 

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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