Urban centres of attention

A city is considered influential and important when everybody is talking about it. That said, there are no reliable figures for how strongly cities actually participate in the global conversation. The GDI has made a first attempt with its Global City Ranking and asks how a city remains relevant in the digital discourse.
9 October, 2017 by
Die Metropolen der Aufmerksamkeit
GDI Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute

Hype is king – at least for metropolises. Cities looking to attract the creative class or the most intelligent minds have to be able to offer something unique. This is influenced by ‘hard’ local factors (such as infrastructure, traffic, etc.) and ‘soft’ ones (culture, scene, image, etc). Even so, these factors mean nothing without the attention to go with it: a city needs to be seen and heard, loved or hated, craved or controversial. Above all, it needs to be part of the general conversation.

Idle chatter alone is not enough. The value of a particular city’s brand is defined – much more so than the majority of consumer brands – by what its ‘users’ organise, host and stage there. To attract new customers (that is, new residents), cities have long relied on personal recommendation and direct contact over advertising messages. As with influencer marketing (currently riding the crest of a wave), it depends primarily on what people say about the brand, not what the brand says about itself.

In contrast to consumer brands, however, the success of city brands can be only indirectly measured at best. There are no reliable general key figures. Using an analysis of discussions on Twitter, Wikipedia and the web in general, we have drawn up a ranking that for the first time focuses on the interconnectedness of cities in the digital sphere. But how are these cities ranked? And what makes them successful?

The answers can be found if we take a closer look at the web ranking. The table below lists all the websites that determine the rankings of the cities. The more closely a website is connected to other websites, the more influence it has and the more important the city that is written about on that website.


In addition to the usual suspects (namely, major news platforms), many tourism, entertainment and sports websites have a strong presence on the list. The more well known a city’s sports clubs, the more tourists it draws to its streets and the more successful its major events, the more talk about the city, thus boosting its presence online.

The trend towards promoting an ‘event culture’ within certain cities is now crystal clear: visitors no longer come to marvel at the sights, take a few snaps and store their memories in a photo album. Tourists today have unlimited internet access and share their travel plans and experiences with their followers. Every trip consists of a collection of mini-events, all of which are planned, experienced and shared online.

Instagram is a popular resource for sharing these experiences. A glance at the number of photos uploaded to Instagram with a city’s hashtag reveals the ‘coolness’ factor of a city. The following cities make the global top 10 in the Instagram ranking:


It is not only how we communicate about trips that has changed – our reasons for taking a city trip have become more diverse. Sightseeing tours are just one possibility among many. Drinking beer with friends in Munich, celebrating New Year in New York City, running a marathon in Kuala Lumpur: all these experiences can be – and are – shared online.

The element of competition plays a key role both for visitors to cities and in the results of our Wikipedia ranking. On Wikipedia, the spotlight shines on a city when it appears in several rankings – from the size of its population to its annual gross domestic product to the number of airports.

The number of different language versions available for the city’s Wikipedia page can also be incorporated, as this points to its international significance since all Wikipedia entries are subject to certain relevance criteria. A city with 220 language versions available around the world (such as Madrid) is much more important than one with only 120 versions (such as Johannesburg).

The top 10 in this list:



For what reasons does a city receive attention on Twitter? Our research suggests that events on this social media channel have a huge influence on rankings – from natural disasters to football matches with Paris Saint-Germain, FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC and Real Madrid to political upheaval (such as Brexit). The more important an event of this kind is perceived by the Twitter community, the more attention the city receives.

Measuring numbers of followers alone is not sufficient to show how much attention a city is actually receiving online. Only when followers become active and tweet or retweet messages does it become clear to what extent the city is part of the online discussion.

Only those events that are able to draw attention to themselves enter the conversation. It doesn’t matter whether the event is a natural disaster, the construction of a new skyscraper, a music festival or the football player transfer of the year – the main thing is that the events attract attention.

This leads us to the big question: what does it take for a city to reach the top of our Global City Ranking? Cities benefit when news sites, travel portals and sports pages write about them. They do this when the cities are singled out due to both organised events and unforeseen developments. This is also how it works on Twitter: the more people who feel the need to write about an event in a city, the more important the city becomes. Another factor that affects a city’s status is how often it appears in rankings on Wikipedia. A comparison shows which cities belong on the list and which do not.

Share this post