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Content Contributors: Social Media Accessibility Basics

Social media is a booming area of the internet. According to Statista, social media has now reached 49% of the world’s population.

“East Asia and North America having the highest penetration rate at 71 and 69 percent respectively, followed by Northern Europe at 67 percent”

That’s a lot of people! And a lot of those people use social media to research and find products they want to buy. So obviously, if you are trying to sell your product, you want to leverage the social media platforms. However, you need to make sure you aren’t missing a large portion of the world’s population who can’t access your posts because they are inaccessible.

The first step – don’t assume that the social platforms you are using are up to date with the accessibility standards (i.e., WCAG 2.1).

Photo by Ansgar Scheffold on Unsplash
Photo by Ansgar Scheffold on Unsplash

Being aware that this may be the case, means you can take steps to make your content accessible to the widest audience possible.


If you are going to use an infographic on your social media, keep in mind that text on images is inaccessible to screen readers. This means persons who have vision issues will miss out on the content you are providing.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use infographics. What it does mean is that you need to take the time to provide alternative ways to convey the information. That may include an alt text on the image or incorporating the information from the graphic into the surrounding text. Your alt text should be descriptive, informative, and concise.

Users of your social media should have more than one way to obtain the information you are providing in your infographics. Also, as a rule, every image in your social posts should have alt text.

What should you keep in mind when developing alt text for your social post images?

  • Reflect on the purpose of the image – it should be to enrich the story, nudge a behavior, or to convey information. Decorative images should not be used in social posts.
  • Describe who, where, and what – Don’t write “image of” or “picture of” – this will be redundant as the screen readers already announce this information to the user. Instead, answer the question of who is doing what and where? If something is relevant in the image, say so. But remember to keep your words sharp, concise, and informative.

If you are developing an infographic for your social media, here are some issues to avoid:

  • Complex layout and flow – make your infographic easy for readers – including those with cognitive disabilities – to interpret what you are trying to convey. Too many lines or arrows connecting content may confuse the reader.
  • Excessive images and text – many social platforms have alt text character limits – and you will need to describe everything you add!
  • Wide variation and insufficient contrast in the color scheme (at least 4.5:1).

What about humor in the graphics?

A 2019 Carnegie Mellon University study resulted in researchers identifying five guidelines people should keep in mind when writing alt text in order to best translate an image’s humor:

  • Explain the character’s actions
  • Explain emotions
  • Explain facial expressions
  • Tell the source (such as TV or film)
  • Describe anything distinct about the background.

Ableist Language

“Ableism is the discrimination of people with disabilities. Ableist language is prejudiced words or phrases against people with disabilities.”
– Policy Research Associates

We certainly don’t want to use language on a social media post that might drive away potential clients. And while it might take a bit more effort, it is a good idea to review and edit your content to remove the ableist language. The following are some examples of the types of words to use instead.


Contact Information

All of your company’s social media accounts should provide people a way to contact you. This will allow them to reach out to you easily if they come across inaccessible content – enabling you to fix the issue. It will also enable them to send you kudos if they want.

What type of contact information should be made available?
You should list a primary phone number and/or email address.

I personally recommend that if you list a phone number, make it a business number that has a voice mail that is properly set up and frequently checked (and emptied). You don’t want people trying to reach out to you only to hit a “voicemail is full” message … or worse “user has not set up a voice mail” … leaving the user unable to leave a message.

Similarly for the email, list a business email address that is generic to your department. This way if you are on vacation, or move on to a new opportunity, the company will still have access to any emails sent to that account.


Language / Reading Level

You don’t want to use jargon or big words in your social media posts, as they may confuse your readers. Keep in mind that your readers may have a slower processing speed, cognitive impairments, or lower education level. Remember, you want to reach as wide of an audience as possible!

Tips for writing in a plainer language:

  • Use words that are common and easily understood
  • Avoid run-on sentences (this is generally just good practice anyway)
  • Use clear, short sentences and paragraphs
  • Write in the active voice instead of the passive voice (especially if you are trying to call your readers to action!)

Policy

Does your company have a social media policy?
Do you know what it says?
Does it include accessibility?

If you answered “No” to any of those questions, its time to get to work!

If your company has a legal team or access to a lawyer, enlist their help in developing (or updating) a social media policy that addresses accessibility. This will help to protect both you and your company.

If you need an example, check out the social media policy of the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration:

“Ensure use complies with applicable mandates, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, IT Security Policy, and the Federal Records Act. The GSA Handbook on Social Media provides greater detail on applicable mandates.”


Photo by Alvaro Pinot on Unsplash
Photo by Alvaro Pinot on Unsplash

Post Structure

Personally, I believe that this should be an etiquette issue as far as social media goes, but I don’t want to assume that everyone knows about proper post structure.

The first part of your post should always be your content. Your readers will thank you!

The second part, or the end of your post, should be where you place your hashtags and @mentions.

Granted, there are exceptions to every rule. Evaluate your post carefully before deciding to break the rules. Consider how someone using a screen reader would fair if you place the hashtags or @mentions before the end of your post.


Linking to PDFs

If you need to link to a PDF document on your web site or elsewhere, check to make sure that the document is accessible and tagged correctly. The last thing you want to do is send potential customers to a document that only makes them frustrated with you, your brand, or your company.

If the document isn’t accessible, and you still really need to link to that content, find out if it is available in any other format. Or you can reach out to your IT department and find out if they can make the PDF accessible.


Multimedia in Posts

If you are posting images, videos, or audio content, it’s a good idea to warn your readers at the beginning of the post – especially helpful for screen readers, but also great for scanning quickly through a bunch of posts.

The recommended prefixes to use are:

  • [PIC] for an image
  • [VIDEO] for video content
  • [AUDIO] for audio content

Additionally, provide your readers with a link back to the original source of the content. Hopefully, your web team has included captions and transcripts with the original source of the content.


Camel Case

When you have multiple words in a hashtag … please, please, PLEASE use camel case. This is a huge benefit to all of your readers.

What is camel case, you ask? It is when you capitalize the first letter of each word within your hashtag.

When you don’t use camel case, it becomes difficult for your readers to figure out what words or phrases you are using. Sometimes this can lead to a big embarrassment for both you and your company. So protect yourself and your company – make your hashtags easier to read – and make your readers happier by using camel case!

Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash
Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

I do hope that this post was educational and enlightening for you. Remember that we are all life-long learners, so keep learning and enhancing your skill set!


Content partially curated from SiteImprove’s Course: Accessibility for Social Media (Premium) and is not available for sale.

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