How to Make Your Social Media Content More Accessible

Lauren Clawson, Social Media Team Lead

As many people in the United States have shifted to remote work and remote learning in light of the global pandemic, internet accessibility is more important than ever. 53% of Americans go as far as to say that the internet is an “essential” service during this time. Additionally, social media usage has increased significantly as well. Twitter alone saw a 24% increase in daily active users in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. This includes official government accounts that are increasingly using social media to announce guidelines in the time of Coronavirus virtually. For instance, the CDC’s Twitter account has grown to 2.9 Million followers as of July 2020.

Typically when we discuss accessibility concerns as digital marketers, we are referring to accessible website guidelines. This has been an area of focus for Portent for a while now, and recently we have been encouraging our clients to consider accessibility in their social media strategy as well. Social media platforms are still playing catch-up when it comes to accessibility features (including a lack of options for advertisers), but we have determined there are three key areas that businesses can immediately address.

ALT Text

At Portent, we talk about ALT attributes with our clients regularly. ALT text is read by screen readers in place of images, or displayed in place of images when the file is not loaded. ALT text on social media is similar, but executed on each platform vs. on-site. Most platforms have automatic ALT text functionality, but because it is written by AI, there are instances where the automatic ALT text does not accurately convey the meaning or emotion in the image. Also important to note, ALT text should not be confused with the link description, which is a standard field in most social media posts.

To ensure that your images are described appropriately to your entire audience, we recommend manually updating the ALT Text as part of your standard deployment process.

You can find the instructions for adding ALT text to each platform here:

Video Captions

Captions for social media videos have been a best practice for a few years, as more and more users engage with social media content with the sound off. Additionally, including captions ensures that those with accessibility concerns can consume the content as well. We always recommend including captions on both organic and paid videos.

However, we typically advise against creating videos with burned on (or open) captions. Alternatively, uploading captions via SRT file will allow screen readers to ingest the captions without issue.

Readable Text

Making sure your text is readable to all users is just as important on social media as it is on your website. Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating accessible content for your social channels.

Formatting

The function of social media is to provide information to users, and inappropriate formatting can be the biggest barrier for those with accessibility concerns.

Unicode text is one of the most common culprits, and something we highly discourage using. While you may feel like it adds emphasis to posts and tweets, some screen readers omit it entirely. As I mentioned previously, this can cause major implications for users trying to find information during emergencies, natural disasters, or pandemics. The below tweet is a great example of an official government Twitter account supplying information about Coronavirus in a format that is not accessible to those that may need it.

Hashtags

Hashtags should always be created in camel case, which capitalizes the first word of each letter. Using this formatting automatically makes the hashtag easier to read for both screen readers and users with dyslexia or other cognitive abilities, as well as users who are learning the language.

#AccessibilitiyInSocialMedia is much easier to read compared to
#accessibilitiyinsocialmedia

Emojis

As a social media marketer, I have seen the impact that a properly placed emoji(s) can have on ad copy. That being said, inappropriately placed emojis can have the opposite effect on your social media posts. We recommend avoiding overuse of emojis, and solely relying on emojis to convey meaning. There are two main reasons:

  1. Overuse of emojis can lead to confusion for those learning the language, and those using screen readers. The below example illustrates how emojis sound to a screen reader:
     
  2. Emojis also look different from device to device and between platforms as emoji code is not always consistent between programs. For example, here is the same tweet but viewed in Slack:

    Since the emoji code didn't transfer properly to Slack, some images appeared as square blocks of color, or were replaced with something complete different.
    Image courtesy of UN Volunteers on Twitter

This tweet was specifically formatted for emoji day and we expect to see emojis used throughout, but that’s not the result. To avoid this, look for instances where emojis can be traded for text, or reduced to include a thoughtful description as well. Doing this will guarantee that the information is readable for all users.

Image Text Overlay

In recent years, Facebook and Pinterest, in particular, have pushed the delivery of both organic and ad content that is formatted with text overlay, and this trend will likely continue. At Portent, we consistently recommend this approach, both from accessibility and performance perspectives. We encourage applying the same contrast guidelines you would use on your website to social media content creation. For example, the text overlay on this image may be difficult to read for users because of the poor contrast:

This 2x3 grid of product images includes some instances of white text overlay on top of photography with contrast making it difficult to read.
Image courtesy of Compliments furniture.

But after a few color and text placement edits, it’s much easier to read, and will work great for both Facebook and Instagram.

The same 2x3 grid of product images has been updated with darker text placed in less cluttered locations over the photographs.
Suggested image edits courtesy of Nielsen Norman Group.

Final Thoughts

In this age of increased virtual connection, users of all types are interacting with your social media profiles, some of them for the first time. If accessibility concerns aren’t already incorporated in your social media development process, taking the above steps is a great way to get started. Your social media content should be accessible to everyone. Implementing these features allows your content to reach users you may not have been previously accommodating.

Lauren Clawson, Social Media Team Lead

Lauren Clawson

Social Media Team Lead
Social Media Team Lead

Lauren is the social media team lead at Portent. She manages a range of social media accounts from small business to large enterprise clients, as well as guiding the social strategy across the entire agency. Lauren started her digital marketing career in programmatic, but her passion for the art and science of connecting the client and consumer online lead her to the social space. When she is not at work, Lauren enjoys doing all things you would expect in the Pacific Northwest: camping, hiking, and playing with her chocolate lab, Norman.

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