ONS on Twitter 2015

As we start a new year it’s a good opportunity to look back at ONS on Twitter and remind ourselves of some of the highlights from each month of last year. We explored a range of factors including retweets, clicks and overall engagement.

To start, a few statistics (because, of course..!)

From 1 Jan – 31 Dec

Total followers: 196,549

Total retweets: 37,114

Total direct mentions: 27,347

New followers: 102,115

Average daily follower growth: 280

Now let’s take a look at our most popular posts throughout the year. We’ve stripped out the regular, monthly market sensitive releases, that are updated headline figures, as they’re continually popular and widely shared at 9.30am month by month as soon as the stats are published.



We kicked off the year with the launch of our ONS Visual site and a blog with a bit of context of what it’s about

Our monthly Economic Review pulls together the latest trends in the economy, with different focuses each month, and some topical analysis on the fall in oil prices and the impact on the UK economy. We also looked at falling real wages and tax receipts which were particularly popular in January

Our visual.ONS site opened with a series of UK Perspectives articles on different topics, pulling together social and economic changes over the last three decades. The first focused on the changing population

Using annual earnings data, we created an interactive and quiz, comparing occupations with similar salaries and even a quiz, testing your knowledge on which occupation earns the most. It was one of our most clicked links of the year



The labour market is always a highly topical area on Twitter, and zero hours contracts increasingly a specific focus, so our release of the latest figures were widely discussed on Twitter

Just before Valentine’s Day was the perfect tongue-in-cheek time to reshare our Census interactive map, with a detailed breakdown of the ‘single population’ in England and Wales, asking ‘What’s the single population like where you live?’ Although the release had previously been published we reposted it on visual.ONS for a responsive, mobile optimised experience

When there are internationally recognised awareness days, we often have relevant data that we can tie in. International Mother Language Day was one example, where we linked to a census article exploring languages across England and Wales using the trending hashtag that was being used on the day, widening the reach of our post

Content that often performs well on social media for us is international comparisons, especially if displayed in a clear ranking chart that puts the UK in context. A release on our main website in February presented international comparisons of productivity, while on Visual.ONS one of the UK Perspectives articles looked at the UK in a European context more generally



To mark International Women’s Day, we pulled together a range of statistics, exploring the changing lives of women, as well as highlighting areas where inequality still exists, in a list on our visual website

A favourite on the calendar for stats fans is the annual CPI basket of goods update, looking at what’s in and what’s out, representing evolving shopping habits. A simple infographic highlighting this was picked up and shared widely

Our life expectancy data was put into context with an interactive calculator we published in March, asking ‘How long will my pension need to last?’

A series of interactive maps with data from our Annual Population Survey allowed people to explore personal well-being in their area, comparing with other areas and the UK average

We live tweeted along to the Budget in March, linking to relevant statistics as they arose and one of the top posts of the day was an interactive map looking at economic performance across the UK



April was a quiet month for us as we were in the pre-election ‘purdah’ period where government communication is restricted, but we reshared a previously published infographic on the most common cancers among males and females to coincide with World Cancer Day

We had a range of digital roles that we advertised in April that generated wide interest on social media



A striking chart on income poverty we created for Twitter was one of our most retweeted tweets of 2015

A grim topic but one always of interest, an interactive on the top causes of death by age and gender was also one of the most successful pieces of content throughout the year

We experimented with a Twitter graphic for the quarterly migration figures, showing different elements of the release. This particular format worked much better than the headline figure alone so used it for future releases

Insights into internet use are of continual interest on social media and a list we created in May ‘Internet use in the UK: what are the facts?’ pulled out some demographical trends

We tweeted an effective chart alongside a visual article, showing regional variations in house prices and explored whether house prices were rising in all areas of the UK

Gross Household Disposable Income (GDHI), although a fairly technical release and definition, was presented clearly in an interactive map we published that asked ‘How does Household Income compare across the UK?’

A striking statistic alongside visual representation in a Twitter graphic made this an effective post accompanying a normally relatively low key release



The launch of a consultation on the 2021 Census and callout for responses received a large number of clicks

Alongside the public census consultation, we published a series of articles on different topics, which highlighted the importance of the census and what the 2011 census showed us. One looking at how religion has changed in England and Wales was particularly popular

To mark World Environment Day, we published a series of tweets and facts in a list ‘5 essential facts about the UK environment’

Carers Week also fell in June so we used census data to look at the ageing population and carer population

An article on binge drinking in Great Britain explored adult drinking habits between 2005 and 2013

An article published in June asked ‘How does the UK contribute to the EU budget?’

We pulled out a striking visual on home ownership graphic from a Census analysis article that was one of our most retweeted posts of the year

We looked at the effects of taxes and benefits on households and pulled some of the key findings into Twitter graphics that made a big impact compared to previous text-only posts so we continued this format for future promotion

We repackaged the life expectancy interactive we published in March from a focus on pensions to a new spin asking ‘What is your chance of living to 100?’



We tweeted along to the Summer Budget and a Visual article explaining the productivity puzzle pulled out various charts on productivity and output in the UK. One looking at output in the context of G7 countries was particularly popular

To coincide with exam season we republished some analysis on qualifications and employment from the census with an accompanying graphic

We challenged perceptions in a visual piece in July that asked people how they think the UK welfare budget is spent with a neat interactive slider to make their guess before revealing the actual split

One of the Census analysis articles focused on disability which was a strong talking point on Twitter. An interactive map highlighted the inequalities in disability between the least and most deprived areas


Areas that are of continued interest on social are births and deaths so a piece we published looking at trends over the last century was one of the top pieces of content of the year



We created a set of simple Twitter graphics accompanying the latest publication on internet access and the points on social media use were particularly popular on social media (go figure!)

For a Census article on the changing labour market over time, we presented data in a similar way to a previous census article on home ownership over time that again worked effectively


Another highlight from the article was a chart pulling out the change in people cycling to work over time, broken down by region

One of the most impactful posts of the year in terms of discussions and shares was a chart from an article on housing that put social housing rent in the context of earnings

In August, we posted a series of tweets linking to a survey asking for people to help with research and although, on the surface, the posts may seem relatively quiet, the url in the tweets was one of our most clicked-through links of the year

The biggest piece of content for us in August was the annual baby names release. Following the success of a list of pop cultural influences on baby names last year, we looked at this again. By far the most popular aspect was the Game of Thrones angle

Marvel superheroes were another top hit

We also created Twitter graphics that compared the top 10 baby names over 10 years, which were one of the most clicked posts of the entire year

A visual article in September asked ‘What are migration levels like in your area?’ and a tweet pulling out trends in London was one of the most engaged with posts

When we’ve got interactive content, users can explore it’s often worth creating an animated gif that works well to present the functionality



We highlighted demographic breakdowns for suicides that was a big talking point on Twitter on World Suicide Prevention Day

Another Visual piece looking at long term population trends asked ‘How has life expectancy changed over time?’

A topical subject, a piece on trade with China, was a popular piece from September

Deaths related to drugs poisoning is a large annual release that has interesting breakdowns and insights. We pulled off a map highlighting regional comparisons that was picked up widely on social media

We created another animated gif to showcase our History of Strikes interactive. Our usual chart/infographic format was broken up, using archive imagery from the actual strikes, so it stood out on our timeline

There was quite a bit of interest from the data visualisation community when we hosted our first Reddit AMA in September




We had a great reaction to our ‘Nine things you might not know about older people in the UK’ article to align with Older People’s Day

It was only right that we geeked out to World Statistics Day in October so we worked with other government departments to host a Twitter quiz throughout the day


Our Children’s Well-being publication included analysis on children’s mental ill-health for the first time – a widely discussed topic – so we pulled out a separate article and Twitter graphics to present the findings

Another opportunity to share our poverty stats was alongside UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which was shared even further than the first time around

A simple text tweet with the latest population projections had an impact in a post in October



Living Wage Week fell in November, which was a good opportunity to repromote our living wage Visual piece, published the previous month

Tried and tested, our Twitter graphics alongside the quarterly migration releases proved successful again for November’s release

Alongside the main migration release, we also update an interactive timeline that shows migration patterns over time. Although this wasn’t a new content piece it remains of interest each time we update it

Our National Well-being interactive maps were used to coincide with National Stress Awareness Day in November

We published an article in November looking at excess winter deaths and a chart showing the highest number of excess winter deaths since the flu epidemic of 1999/2000

We had a great response online to a call for people to help us choose terminology for the new Beta website



Using Twitter’s poll functionality, we held a daily quiz throughout December, with relevant festive stats, revealing the answer the following day

A Visual piece in December explored the distribution of earnings and how pay has changed over a long period, with a focus on minimum wage


Another successful use of the animated gif feature was an interactive that looked at house prices for local areas and how they’ve changed from 1995-2015

An article looking at the UK film industry and Star Wars in society was well-received among our followers, particularly the Jedi and baby names angle

A real talking point in the run up to Christmas was an interactive piece where people could find out how popular their birthday was, and particularly of interest was the high number of Christmas conceptions and the fact that September 26 was the most popular day to be born over the last two decades

We’ve found that our top posts usually, but not always, include an image or interactive gif. We’ve experimented with different types of images and will only use them if they add value and are careful not to overuse them. If every post used an image, it would lose its impact. Tying in with relevant awareness days and campaigns keeps us current and topical, feeding into discussions that are often already happening around our statistics. We often pull out interesting revelations or snippets that are separate from the key headline statistics, and these tend to be picked up more on social media than the bigger numbers, particularly if they’re shocking, surprising or myth-busting. On the face of it some of our top posts may not appear very engaging as they may have relatively low retweets but instead have high clickthrough rates or responses, so it’s important to look at the metrics for success as a package and not to focus on one number. Lots of visual.ons.gov.uk content appears in this list, and it’s been great to package our stats in a simple, clear and user-friendly format for interesting areas that may have previously been buried in excel spreadsheets.

Tweeting along to key events like the Budget and pulling out statistics on topics once they’re high on the news agenda means we inform debate with robust, impartial statistics and raise the exposure of the mine of data we produce and collect as an organisation.


And finally…

Here’s just a few of our favourite tweets of the year from others about ONS. The fact that we’ve been referred to as ‘sexy’ on several occasions is a win in my eyes!










Lauren Bradford

Social Media Manager


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