London commands almost half of all social media and online news mentions about British cities, according to the UK’s Most Talked About Cities, an annual ranking of cities’ digital footprint by city communications specialist ING Media.  

Other key findings include the fact that Liverpool’s digital output increased 1.5% year on year, due to interest generated from hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, showing the power of cultural and sporting events.

Outside of London, Leeds showed the strongest correlation between visibility, soft power, gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign direct investment (FDI), but Bristol has the highest soft power score outside London, powered by talent retention and strong green initiatives.

Edinburgh increased its digital visibility ranking position from seventh in 2021 to fourth in 2022, overtaking Glasgow for the first time thanks to cultural events such as the Fringe festival, its unique tourist offer and connections to the Royal Family.

“Where visibility leads, investment and prosperity follow,” said Damian Wild, managing director at ING Media. “In today’s digital age, a city’s online presence and visibility are vital in attracting investment, businesses and talent, while shaping its reputation. Our research into the UK’s most talked-about cities underscores the significant impact of digital messaging on cities as brands.

“By increasing a city’s digital visibility, the report shows that tangible benefits can be achieved for its brand. Effective communications strategies are crucial in a city’s growth story, whether it is by enhancing its soft power profile or highlighting the opportunity for investment.”

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ING’s report ranks 50 cities based on the UK’s most important city networks, Key Cities, Core Cities and the Scottish Cities Alliance, according to their share of online conversations, which includes all social media and online news articles in 2022. It provides vital insight into the impact of digital messaging on cities as brands and how this affects economic growth, future prosperity and investable destinations.

The report found that the overall number of digital mentions for these 50 cities decreased 5% year on year in 2022, following a post-pandemic boom from people returning to cities.

Investment opportunity ranking

ING has also created a new Soft Power Index, a unique set of indicators designed to measure how the UK’s cities compare, assessing the influence of culture, travel, education, diversity and environmental credentials on a city’s growth ambitions.

Soft power leverages cultural influence to forge cooperation and attraction between domestic and international partners. London tops ING’s soft power ranking, ahead of Bristol, which performed strongly due to talent retention and green initiatives, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester.

The research indicates that several correlations exist between a city’s digital visibility and its soft power, GDP and FDI inflows. ING has aggregated this data series into one simple benchmark, the Investment Opportunity Ranking, which shows that the greater a city’s digital output is, the higher it sits on this ranking.

Leeds showed the strongest correlation between visibility, soft power, GDP and FDI outside of London, followed by Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester.

The report also analysed which cities punch above their weight and those that show the most potential for increasing their digital profiles, showing how effective communications can drive growth in the UK’s cities and the country. Future investment opportunity prospects are dependent on a variety of social and economic indicators, yet scoring highly in digital visibility and soft power can directly influence future investor intent.

Other notable findings include the fact that conversations around sports remain the most common peak annual mention among ING’s selected cities (28%), while, in 2022, 26% of peak mentions were related to Queen Elizabeth II’s death and funeral, as cities paid their respects through tributes.

Meanwhile, the top fastest-moving cities in terms of digital visibility were Derry-Londonderry (23), Swansea (20) and Stockport (13).