Imperial Household Agency Turns to Instagram Amid Renewed PR Efforts; New Account Surpasses 950,000 followers

From the Imperial Household Agency’s official Instagram account
The Imperial Household Agency’s official Instagram account shares photos, most of which are of the activities of the Imperial couple and the natural beauty of the Imperial Palace.

The Imperial Household Agency launched its official Instagram account on April 1, a year after the establishment of the agency’s public relations office that is tasked with strengthening the dissemination of information about the Imperial family. The agency is in the process of renewing the Imperial family’s official website, and public relations efforts are underway to protect the family, including measures against slander on social media platforms.

60,000 “likes” on Instagram

A photo of the Emperor, Empress and their daughter Princess Aiko, 22, smiling and sitting together on a sofa at the Imperial Palace, was posted on the Instagram account at 12 a.m. on April 1. Additional photos and videos of events attended by the Emperor and Empress from January to March were posted on the same day, bringing the total number of posts to 19 for the day.

The official account garnered 350,000 followers on the first day, surpassing the Prime Minister’s Office’s account, which has about 290,000 followers. The Imperial agency’s posts received more than 60,000 “likes.” By April 17, the number of followers had increased to about 950,000, about 1.5 times the Swedish royal family’s figure of 630,000.

“The high level of interest [in the Imperial family] among the public is evident,” a senior agency official said.

The aim of using Instagram, which has a high usage rate among people ages 10 to 29, is to increase interest in the Imperial family among the young, who typically show less interest than middle-aged and older people.

For the time being, posts will mainly feature the Imperial couple’s activities and the natural beauty of the Imperial Palace. Mutual follow requests from foreign royal families will be considered flexibly.

Mako Komuro as turning point

The Imperial Household Agency’s initiative to enhance its dissemination of information was spurred by a spate of slanderous comments on social media regarding the marriage of Mako Komuro, 32, the eldest daughter of Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko.

The agency aims to accurately convey the daily activities and personalities of Imperial family members, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstandings about them.

To support PR strategies, a public relations promotion officer has been appointed within the public relations office. Furthermore, the office has leveraged the private sector’s expertise by hiring two people with public relations experience from All Nippon Airways and the Japan Football Association through personnel exchanges.

The agency has begun to have officials from the public relations office accompany the Emperor and Empress to events and has started publishing original articles on its website. About 40 articles have been published over the past year. Efforts are also underway to completely revamp the official website in two years.

No rebuttals

Despite the agency’s efforts, challenges remain. For example, numerous websites and social media platforms cover the Imperial family, and misinformation about the family is disseminated daily.

As a measure against defamation, a position was established last year to address publications that damage the honor of the Imperial family. However, the specialist’s main duty involves handling inquiries from weekly magazines, and no rebuttals have been made to malicious posts.

The Imperial family has been bashed in the past, including one instance that led to the then Empress, now Empress Emerita, falling ill. In another case, speculative articles were published about the current Empress when she began to recuperate in 2003, when she was the Crown Princess.

According to people associated with the agency, after Mako Komuro’s engagement was announced, the agency considered rebutting baseless reports and online posts one by one. However, deeming that there are limits to such responses, the agency shelved the idea.

In a press conference given for his birthday in 2022, Crown Prince Akishino spoke of the complexity of responding to such bashing, saying, “It’s often difficult to know the facts unless you are an involved party,” adding, “It’s hard to set standards for rebuttals and express opinions.”

A senior agency official said, “We’d like to directly convey the sincerity of the Imperial family members to the public to foster a correct understanding of them, while continuing to explore further [protective] measures.”

British royal family active on social media

The British royal family is a pioneer among foreign royal families in utilizing social media platforms for public relations purposes. Their Instagram account boasts about 13.4 million followers. The impetus was the death of Princess Diana in 1997 when the royal family’s silence in the aftermath led to public criticism, with members being labeled as cold and insular.

In response, the royal family hired media experts and reformed their public relations strategy. They began using YouTube in 2007 and Twitter, now known as X, in 2009, portraying the image of royal family members serving the nation.

Support for the royal family among the public grew. When Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, people queued for more than 24 hours to mourn her death.

“The British royal family has successfully broadened public understanding through the synergistic effect of utilizing multiple social media platforms,” said Prof. Naotaka Kimizuka, an expert in royal family studies at Kanto Gakuin University. “The Imperial Household Agency will likely need to consider more proactive ways to disseminate information.”