Multi-media posts, viral dissemination of news and the custom functionalities available across platforms makes social media a hive for inaccessibility.
Assistive technology that helps to make certain areas online more accessible for differing users hits multiple stumbling blocks when it comes to social. While some issues are in the nature of the platform and need changes higher up, there are plenty of options and resources to implement to ensure your social content is accessible for different issues the user faces.
If you’re questioning why this is important, my question back to you is do you mind alienating members of your audience? Inclusivity should be essential to your activity, not a floating consideration. In taking steps across differing areas of inclusivity, you are adding value to your content and presence online.
Your next viral customer could be someone using a screen reader. Are they able to understand and interact with your content positively? Are they offered the same experience as your able audience? If not, is there a valid reason for this?
We’ve outlined some steps to take in how to make social media accessible for your audience. And while some of these will require additional copy creation or additional features to consider when posting content, these should be baked into your social plans and uploads to ensure you’re truly offering value to your whole audience.
1. Add alt text
Alt text is a written description of an image or a visual asset. This can be buried in code on a website or editable in your CMS, but it's also now a feature across most social platforms.
For users with screen readers, this means they can experience a visual post or get further clarity on what’s in an image or GIF.
Alt text doesn’t need to be an artsy description of what you can see. It should be to the point (bearing in mind this is being read out loud) but descriptive. There are options to add alt text on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s as simple as adding a sentence in the post settings when uploading your post.
2. Beware of custom fonts and excessive use of emojis
Custom fonts can pop up anywhere on social but you’ll usually find them in usernames or profile bios. The text might look cute for your audience or make your username stand out in the scroll, but on a screen reader, it’s a completely different experience.
Similarly, using a stream of emojis to make a point or create designs in individual posts might make you part of a viral format, but you’ve just lost anyone implementing text-to-speech tools.
Anything that deviates from standard text on any platform, including emojis whether alone or en masse, will be read out descriptively, so it’s well worth considering that when creating content.
3. Caption your content
Adding captions to video content is essential to serve anyone with hearing impairments in your audience, not to mention adding value for those in a sound-off social scroll. Captions can increase retention, allowing users to enjoy content through to the end and potentially capture more of the audience for your end call to action.
The most effective way to do this is to create your own subtitles to add onto any spoken content. Facebook and YouTube do provide an automatic caption service (with IGTV incoming) but these are not always correct, so use with caution and review once they’ve been added.
Also consider any key changes in video content that could be missed by those visually impaired. For example, a new person entering a scene without being introduced, or silent queues to the camera that would be missed without a description.
4. Add value to your Instagram Stories
By its nature, Instagram Stories is restrictive in interactivity for the visually impaired and often for those hard of hearing. There are currently no options for auto-caption or alt text built into Stories, but there are steps to take to make the experience more enjoyable for those who can access them.
Certain fonts are more readable for certain visual impairments and other disabilities. Instagram Stories recently launched a new set of fonts including one similar to Comic Sans. While it’s typically a running joke for how terrible it is, it’s actually one of the most readable for those with dyslexia.
Similarly to the custom fonts, consider the readability of text, particularly if using multiple font styles on one slide – an eye-sore you should drop anyway – and the more readable nature of left-aligned text.
The same rule for captioning spoken content in video posts on your feeds applies here - for any spoken word in your Stories, add captions. This can be typed out in the app, or there are select external apps that will provide a captioning service. This again will serve to improve accessibility but also engage users with their sound-off. To put this into context, 85% of Story content is currently watched with sound-off, are you catering to this 85% of your audience?
For content and experiences you think are essential for your brand, make sure these are shared in the feed instead or as well as Stories to allow some accessible functionality and help in building more content.
c. Text and button placement
For any content creation on Stories, this should be a given. The placement of text and buttons within the screen can make or break the user’s experience. Anything clickable; usernames, polls, quizzes etc should be as central as possible. This allows one-hand accessibility, and also avoids any overlap of the on-screen text on every story like the message box or user profile button.
The same goes for text placement. While many users can hold their screen to pause content, this isn’t also an option, so any text hidden behind existing features on screen is lost, potentially compromising your message.
5. Consider trigger warnings
Depending on the nature of your content or the formatting used, consider adding trigger warnings into captions, start frames of videos or your profile bio. Trigger warnings should be included for anything that could cause a reaction in the audience, from photosensitivity through flashing lights or flashing colours, sensitive topics being discussed such as abuse, or explicit content such as violent/sexual imagery or copy.
Be aware of what you’re posting and how this could affect your audience. There is a large degree of trust for users who may be sensitive to the above or other issues on social, so anything you can do to pre-empt a response is of value.
6. Camel case your hashtags
Not only does camel case help with readability and understanding, it also avoids misunderstanding and going viral for the wrong reasons. This is the uppercasing of separate words when strung together so frequently seen in branded hashtags, for example #ThisIsCamelCase
With camel case, you take the easily misinterpreted #susanalbumparty to a much more brand relevant #SusanAlbumParty.
Be particularly aware of this when clicking on predicted hashtags, as few use this format.
There are currently no mandatory requirements for accessible social media content which is a disservice to the millions of social media users that need them. By implementing accessible features across all your content, you’re adding value to so many of your audience.
Ensuring your online platforms and content is accessible isn't going to be an overnight fix, but taking steps to create a better experience should be forming part of your strategy. This is something that we are not only working on collaboratively with our clients, but this is also something we're looking to improve in own marketing and communications too.
If you need support with this or any other aspect of social media, get in touch to find out how we can work together.
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