Social for all: accessibility and inclusivity on social media

This year has certainly served up its share of disruption - but the silver lining is that it’s brought with it great opportunities for learning. Global events have pushed us towards becoming more aware and conscious of the way we are communicating and engaging with others, and here at The Social Shop we love that the uptake in awareness is beginning to result in a better social space for all.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. 

Brands are actively doing their part online to ensure there is greater representation, less appropriation and more inclusive content and conversations has come under close scrutiny in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter movement. But while it’s a topical conversation right now, considering how you can make your social presence more accessible and inclusive for a diverse audience is a pertinent consideration, always. 

That’s because language gives us common understanding, it connects us, but it also has the power to divide and exclude. It can be used to validate or undermine someone’s experiences, identity and sense of self. Becoming more conscious of the impact our choice of language or content can have is important in an increasingly diverse world.

Diversity vs inclusivity
First - let’s quickly discuss the difference between diversity and inclusivity. It’s easy to post a photo that has people who represent different ages, abilities, genders or ethnicities. That image might appear diverse, but it doesn’t represent inclusivity. Inclusivity is the equitable culture you create that allows diversity to take place, organically. It’s where all people feel safe, respected, valued equally. So in terms of your marketing, creating a sense of inclusivity isn’t just about token imagery, but also about the stories you share and the language you use, so that your content resonates with people of all backgrounds and walks of life.

Communicating consciously also isn’t about having a checklist. It needs to be intrinsic in your values and the way you approach your interactions with others. We’ve pulled together these tips for you to help you implement some necessary content changes, but it’s over to you to do the work so that you acknowledge and reset unconscious bias in your business, and get clear on your understanding of inclusivity.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to social:

Do an audit
Take some time to scrutinise your own content. Where have you potentially made generalisations or assumptions based on your own perspective or privilege? Are your words or images excluding anyone (unintentionally)? Where have you used idioms or phrases that might be considered disempowering, problematic, disrespectful or perhaps appropriated from another culture? Have you used statements or images that might outline a stereotype that could make someone feel marginalised? Consider things like gender, ethnicity, ability, age and sexuality, and take note of where you may have got it wrong, so that you can create an inclusive language policy for your business in order to avoid future mistakes.

Update your Brand Voice Guide
Add an inclusive language section to your Brand Voice guidelines. As part of this, build a list of ‘do not use’ words, as well as preferred alternatives. If you have a team, ask them to contribute (perhaps anonymously) any words that they have seen used either externally or internally in your business that they felt were offensive, discriminatory or disempowering. When you’re creating content for your social feeds, refer to this list. If you see members of your social community engaging with your brand using language that doesn’t align with your list, use it as an opportunity to educate. Drop a comment such as, ‘Hey, around here we prefer to use the term X instead’. It’s not about shaming anyone, but about respectfully educating your community - after all, that’s the only way we’ll begin to see change!

Write Alternative Text descriptions
Instagram and Facebook have an ‘alt text’ function, which has a number of purposes but importantly in this conversation Alt Text is used for screen readers (screen readers are used by people who are blind or have limited vision), which allows visually impaired users to access your content. Some people also choose to include an ‘image description’ as part of their post caption. Either way, it is essentially a brief outline of what is depicted in the image, so that a person with visual challenges can still consume your content.

Caption video content
Video captions are not just convenient for watching videos in silent mode. Captions are essential for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. On Facebook, it’s possible to insert captions manually if you don’t have your own editing software. If you have a business Facebook page, just click on the ‘Subtitles and Captions’ button to generate automatic captioning (just be sure to check it as it’s not always accurate!). Consider captioning your social stories too - there are apps such as Clipomatic that do this automatically for you, or simply type the text in yourself. Pro tip: use the microphone function on your phone keyboard to save yourself typing time!

CamelCase hashtags
Use initial caps in hashtags with more than one word. So, #WriteYourHashtagsLikeThis, #ratherthanlikethis. It’s easier on the eye for everyone to read, but importantly it makes it easier for screen readers to recognise and differentiate between individual words, otherwise it becomes a confusing garble.

Be considerate with emoji use
Again, screen readers are going to read an emoji out loud - for example, ‘clapping hands’ or ‘hamburger’. Keep this in mind when you’re including a whole string of emojis in a row. For someone who is using a screen reader to consume content, they will hear ❤️❤️❤️❤️  as ‘red heart red heart red heart red heart’. Put a space between emojis too, to make it easier for the screen reader.

Shorten URLs
For the same reason, consider using short URLs where you need to include a link, because screen readers will have to read them out as if it were one long word. Bitly is a free tool you can use to shorten URLs to add to your social posts (we think it looks cleaner in your copy anyway!)

Avoid ableist language
There are words thrown about every day that we often don’t think could actually be offensive. Try to find alternatives for words like insane, crazy, OCD, lame, etc. While you may have no ill-intent in your use of these words, they can be perceived differently and can be offensive or triggering.

When talking attributes, go with person-first rather than identity-first descriptors, as it puts the individual as the focus, not the descriptor. Here are some examples:

✓ People of colour 𐄂 Coloured people
✓ A woman on the development team 𐄂 A female developer
✓ A man who is blind 𐄂 A blind man
✓ A child with diabetes 𐄂 A diabetic child

It’s also important to avoid words that imply victimhood. For example, there is debate around words like impairment or impaired, as it implies there is a deficit, where someone who is deaf or blind may not consider that their inability to see or hear is a deficit. 

Use trigger warnings where necessary
If you discuss sensitive topics in your social posts, consider adding the text ‘Trigger Warning’ to the start of your post, followed by a space. This gives people the opportunity to decide whether they engage with your post or not, based on their own personal experience, perspectives and trauma.

Diverse representation matters
Diversity in our newsfeeds is important - and the responsibility is on us as brands to consider it in our content creation. Use imagery that represents a mix of the spectrum of people who make up our world - genders, ethnicities, disabilities and ages. Be conscious when using marketing personas that you haven’t created them based on assumptions that may lead you to exclude people unconsciously. In an increasingly diverse world, it’s important to market (and therefore build personas) based on needs, not demographics. Share content from, and advocate for all, however be conscious of not leveraging a disabled person as ‘inspiration porn’. That is, portraying or objectifying someone as inspirational solely because of their perceived difference.

Stay educated
The Conscious Style Guide is a helpful resource if you want to learn more about creating inclusive content. It offers great guides and articles to help you understand the use of conscious language across ability and disability, age, ethnicity, race and nationality, religion, gender and sexuality, and more. The Diversity Style Guide is another resource you may like to refer to.

Our world is a beautiful, complex place! Our social feeds should be a reflection of that too, and conscious content creation will only serve to connect us with more people. Our understanding of people, and how we relate to them, is a constant learning curve, and it’s on us as brands to keep ourselves aware, learning and adapting as we go. 

Have you learnt something new that you’ll be implementing in your social content creation going forward? Let us know, and help us spread the message of social for all by giving this article a share!