Introduction to social media

We publish over 4,000 social media posts a year, with content that can be seen by millions of people every week. Our main social media channels are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Our social media content is tailored to each channel and its audience.

Twitter content is largely topical statistical releases published that day and ad hoc content for relevant awareness days. Twitter posts are usually linked as a thread (more details available in Structuring a Twitter thread).

Facebook content is often about releases related to people, communities and well-being that have a human angle and broad appeal. Posts often take the form of questions to encourage sharing, as Facebook’s algorithm favours friends and families’ content over brands’. Promotions of interactive tools, like our life expectancy calculator and baby names explorer, often perform well on Facebook.

LinkedIn content is usually related to the labour market, business, industry and trade, and the economy, as well as the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) corporate news and National Statistical blog posts.

Regardless of the channel, we make sure our social media content can be understood by a broad audience from any background.

Writing for social media

We use plain English and write content as simply as possible, explaining more complicated terms where required so that the content is accessible to all.

It is crucial that we are professional in all our communications. Although our written style on social media differs in some ways from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) website, it is important that we are consistent to maintain our reputation as a trusted organisation and make our content more open and understandable.

Personality and tone of voice

Our social media content should be written in a less formal language than how we write on the website to replicate the way that people usually speak. With this in mind, we should:

  • use the active voice instead of the passive voice (“we collected data” instead of “data were collected”)
  • use contractions (“don’t”, “we’ve”, “can’t”)
  • ask questions
  • address the user as “you” (“You can read our full release here”)
  • refer to the organisation as “we” and “us” instead of “ONS”; if necessary, we should say “the ONS” (for example, when comparing with data from another source)


Structuring a tweet

We know that online readers scan content (rather than reading every word), are distracted by things going on around them, and want to get information as quickly as possible.

To meet these needs with our written content, we should do the following:

  • put the need-to-know information first; this is usually a number or statistic
  • use simple language
  • structure content clearly, for example including line breaks and bullet points
  • cut unnecessary words
  • avoid puns, metaphorical language, acronyms and jargon
  • include links and hashtags if relevant
  • end with a call to action (for example, “find out more” or “read our thread”), particularly for re-promotions
  • give context around basic statistics

Twitter posts can be 280 characters (without a link), or 256 characters with a link to a publication.

Facebook and LinkedIn posts have a much higher limit (2,000 for Facebook and 3,000 for LinkedIn).

Structuring a Twitter thread

Typically, we publish our social media content on Twitter as a thread. A thread is a series of tweets linked together, with each post a reply to the previous one, which has a clear narrative.

A thread should give a summary of the main points of a release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This allows the user to understand the story of the publication, and they should only need to read the full publication if they want further information.

When structuring a successful Twitter thread, it is important to consider the following points:

  • be succinct, as engagement tends to drop off further down a thread and long threads lose impact; five to seven tweets is a good guide
  • begin the thread with the most important main point; this will often see the most engagement
  • strong visual content (for example, digitally designed graphics or animations of interactive tools) should be prioritised in the earliest tweets to increase engagement
  • have a clear narrative as a whole, but also with each tweet making sense independently; news sites often only embed one or two tweets from a thread
  • additional “explainer tweets” can give more context, or explain lesser-known terms or methodology; these can be particularly useful with high-profile content that we expect will generate lots of enquiries

House style for the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) social media


  • Numbers one to nine should be written in full except in percentages (5%) and proportions out of 10 (1 in 10); numbers 10 and higher should be written as digits.
  • If we need to shorten the copy, write all numbers as digits but be consistent throughout the thread.
  • Use numerals for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.


  • Colloquial phrases like “over-50s” can be used instead of “people aged 50 years and over”.
  • Hyphens can be used to shorten copy if necessary (for example 16-25 years) as long as they’re consistent throughout the thread.

Acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations

  • Avoid acronyms and initialisms unless they are widely known (for example UK, GDP, PAYE, COVID-19, ONS).
  • Months can be abbreviated to shorten copy if necessary (that is, Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, June, Jul, Aug, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec), but must be consistent throughout the thread or post.
  • Quarters should be written out with the month range in the first use, for example Q1 2020 should be Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020; it’s better to use more tweets than to abbreviate to Q1 to cut characters.


  • Fractions should be written as words and hyphenated (for example, two-fifths).
  • Never write 1/4; this could be read as “tweet 1 of 4”.


Avoid using symbols where possible, for example:

  • & should be written as “and”
  • – (hyphen) should be written as “to”
  • / should be written as “or”
  • @ should be written as “at” (except when tagging accounts)

If we have to use any symbols to shorten the copy, make sure to be consistent throughout the thread. It is better to use more tweets than to use symbols to cut length.

Tagging official accounts

Tagging official Twitter accounts can show our collaborative projects and increase engagement. Keep an eye out for opportunities, but always double-check the handle to make sure it is correct.

Some accounts that we may tag include:

  • @NHSuk
  • @HMRCgovuk
  • @UKHSA
  • @DHSC
  • @PublicHealthW
  • @adzuna
  • @CompaniesHouse
  • ONS statisticians in our official Twitter network


Using hashtags on Twitter and Facebook helps us engage with wider conversations and increase our exposure. We use hashtags on relevant awareness days (for example, #InternationalWomensDay) and for national and international trending topics.

Important points for using hashtags

  • Check for an existing hashtag from official sites, or search on social media channels to see if there was one last year to predict what it might be this year.
  • Place hashtags at the end of the tweet, and after any links, to avoid disrupting the reading.
  • Use “camel case” (that is, capitalise each word like #CamelCase) – this makes it easier to read and avoids miscommunications.
  • Don’t include punctuation such as hyphens or apostrophes (for example, write #COVID19).

Images for social media

Images are a great way to communicate the message of our social media content. Our images can be broken down into statistical charts, bespoke graphics, and animations or screen recordings (that is, GIFs).

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) charts

We can brand and publish charts that have been created by the Publishing team’s chartbuilder tool or by the Data Visualisation team and appear in the article or bulletin on the ONS website.

Sources for charts and graphics

All statistics in social media graphics should contain a publication source. We always use the source of the publication being promoted rather than the data source or survey name. This is so that users can easily search for and find the data if the chart is used by external websites.

When we cannot use the ONS’ charts

  • The chart is too big; some charts that appear in the ONS’ publications are not suitable for us to use because of size restrictions on the social media platforms.
  • The chart has too many data lines; if there are too many lines of data on a chart, it won’t be accessible for mobile users.
  • The chart has been uploaded as a PNG file; PNG images of charts that have been included in the publication (for example, dual axis charts with many data series) aren’t high-resolution enough, so will likely be unreadable on social media, particularly if they have text annotations (Figure 6).

We may not publish images that have not been created by our graphic design team on our social media platforms, even if they appeared on the ONS website.

Alt text and accessibility

When publishing content on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the images we publish need alt text (alternative text, or alternative descriptions) to summarise the information presented for users who can’t see the graphic. It can also be used to describe what should be on the page if the web browser fails to load the images. Screen readers read the alt text out for people with visual disabilities.


Alt text for charts (chartbuilder or data vis charts) should include:

  • the chart type used
  • a summary of the main trend of the chart

Alt text for this chart would be “Line chart showing average UK house prices fell to £256,000 in July 2021.”

Digitally designed graphics

Alt text for graphics created by our digital design team should include:

  • a description of the imagery used
  • the copy used in the graphic

Alt text for this graphic would be “Graphic showing map of the UK with a magnifying glass on a person’s figure. Text reads: Personal well-being in the UK: April 2020 to March 2021. Read our latest release.”

Graphics for statistician’s comments

Alt text for statistician’s comment graphics should include the text used in the graphic and the number, if more than one graphic is included.

Alt text for this graphic would be “Quote from Jonathan Athow, Deputy National Statistician for Economic Statistics, ONS: “Despite national restrictions, retail sales partially recovered from the hit they took in January. Food and department store benefitted from essential retail remaining open with budget-end department stores seeing increased sales.” (1 of 4)”

Other support for creating social media content

Words and phrases to watch

  • “Blog post” instead of “blog” (unless referring to the blog itself and not a blog post within).
  • Do not begin a tweet with “Today” – we often publish content on more than one release, and beginning this way implies this is the only thing we’ve published.
  • Avoid writing full bulletin titles; write out the description instead.
  • Do not waste characters by writing the statistics two ways, for example, “Almost half (48%) of people…”.
  • Do not write “Between 6 to 10 June”. It should be “between 6 and 10 June” or “from 6 to 10 June”.

Helpful tools for writing social media