One of the beauties of social media lies in its accessibility—all you need is a device and an internet connection to be able to create an account on any of the most popular platforms. But for the millions of people in the world with visual and hearing impairments, social media is actually far less accessible than you’d think.
To get a better sense of what social media managers can do to ensure that their content is as accessible and inclusive as possible, I talked to Carmen Collins, Senior Social Media & Talent Brand Manager at Cisco. Carmen became passionate about the subject last year after breaking her elbow and having to rely on voice recognition software to communicate—and also learned a lot from her team’s summer intern who was visually impaired. Here are her top four tips for getting started with accessibility on social media.
1. When writing hashtags, use camel case.
Using camel case in hashtags is a super simple adjustment that takes almost zero effort. All you have to do is #WriteThemLikeThis (as opposed to #likethis or #LIKETHIS). It’s easier for everyone to read, and it especially helps automated screen readers used by those with visual or reading disabilities to read the hashtag as separate words instead of one long, incoherent word.
2. Add captions to videos with sound.
“The soundtrack of social media is silence,” said Carmen. Videos play automatically in “silent” on every channel, and on Facebook, 85 percent of videos are watched on mute. Since people are largely engaging with social media on mobile and while they’re out and about, they are rarely in situations where they can or want to put the sound on. So, not only does adding captions help everyone better consume your content, but it’s also essential for giving people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing access to the information provided in the video. (Bonus: Studies also show that adding captions also boosts view time by 12 percent!)
3. Add alt text to your photos.
Unless the image is purely decorative, it’s important to include a text alternative to match the visual information being conveyed. The process for doing this on each platform is different, but here are a few places to start:
On Instagram, Carmen and her team actually put their alt text in the image captions themselves along with the #accessibility hashtag. This hashtag has been used almost 250,000 times and is followed by many people in the accessibility community—so it’s an easy way to communicate that your post is one with which they can engage.
4. Avoid putting too much text directly on images.
“If I could change one thing about the internet today,” Carmen said, “this is what I would change.” Screen readers are unable to read text that’s directly on images (which is one of the main reasons alt text exists in the first place)—so, if you are putting information on an image, make sure that same information is also in the alt text or the caption. Or, in the case of something like an infographic, try to provide a link where the user can access the information in a text-based format.
Carmen noted that a lot of people get overwhelmed by the amount of things they can do to make social media accessible. Her advice? “Pick the low-hanging fruit, because any effort is so appreciated.”
“And you don’t have to do everything at once,” she added. “The accessibility community is often ignored, so to have brands acknowledge and try goes a long way.”
Want access to more social media tips and tricks? Check out our Smarter Social™ training for in-house teams.