Niamh Fox, CMO of Texthelp
Social media has given brands the ability to reach larger audiences than ever before. But when we consider that 10% of the global population are affected by some form of disability, it’s clear that failing to prioritise the accessibility of social media content dramatically limits the audience brands can communicate with.
Accessible social media content is not explicitly required by guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, but it shouldn’t need to be. Producing accessible and inclusive content should be something that effective social media marketers just do as best practice. However, this is not often the case.
Who is excluded?
Over 4.3 billion people use social media – approximately 55% of the world’s population. If we contrast this number with the 10% of the population that has some form of disability, this means there are 430 million social media users who may be left out through complex and inaccessible content.
If you’re not addressing the accessibility of your social media content then you’re cutting out a key and significant proportion of your audience. The NHS estimates that in the UK alone there are approximately 1.5 million people who have a learning disability and approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK, including 19% of working age adults. This is a huge audience your social media campaigns may be excluding.
How to be an inclusive social media marketer, and how can it benefit your brand?
When we consider the proportion of social media audiences with additional needs, it’s clear that accessible content is not just a ‘nice to have’ add-on for ethically-minded brands. It’s an essential consideration for anyone seeking to build their brand via social media.
If you do it right, accessible social media campaigns are more effective because they can communicate with the widest possible audience – regardless of whether people have a visual, hearing, motor, cognitive, any other combination of impairments, or are typically-abled.
Accessible content is not only beneficial for social media marketers wanting to reach a larger audience. Implementing accessibility measures often makes content more digestible and engaging for everyone, improving brands’ ability to communicate their message clearly and effectively.
Additionally, if a brand is perceived as being more socially-minded and inclusive, consumers will look upon it more favourably. According to a recent survey by Google, 64% of people took action after seeing an ad that they considered to be inclusive.
So, what measures can you take to produce inclusive social media content, which reaches the largest possible audience?
Making text easier
Uncaptured by disability statistics is the fact that the average reading age in the UK is estimated to be just nine years old. Making sure your copy is written clearly, in short sentences, and avoids the use of jargon or unnecessarily complex language, is a vital part of making social media more accessible. Writing with readability in mind makes your content more understandable and benefits every user that views it.
Additionally, it’s important to consider those with visual impairments when drafting social media copy. Consider how assistive technology, such as screen readers, will read the text. Try to avoid or limit the use of symbols, avoid hashtags in the body of the text, and make sure spelling and punctuation is correct.
Words are only part of your social activity. Videos and audio clips are also tools used by most brands and need to be reviewed for accessibility. Closed captions on videos are a prime example of a measure that benefits everyone, beyond those with auditory impairments it was originally conceived of to help. Closed captions not only help those with hearing impairments understand what is being conveyed by a video post, they also help those non-fluent in the audio language, as well as viewers watching on mute.
As well as videos, images should also be something you review for accessibility – especially for those that may have visual impairments such as colour blindness. If you fail to consider factors such as descriptive captions and colour contrast, then you limit your ability to raise the profile of your brand with an enormous swathe of people. This isn’t something new to social media, in fact, Facebook’s blue and white colour scheme was chosen because Mark Zuckerberg is green-red colour blind.
It’s recommended to use a colour contrast of at least 4.5:1 – this is important for people with colour blindness to be able to distinguish one colour from another. Additionally, avoid using green and red or blue and yellow colour combinations, as these can be difficult to see.
Another important consideration is to avoid using colour to convey meaning. For example, in the West, red is often to denote a downward trend on a chart, danger, or a warning. Yet in China, red represents happiness, success, and good fortune. Step outside your own bubble and consider whether your content conveys the same message in different cultures.
#SocialMediaAccessibility not #socialmediaaccessibility
Another factor to consider is certain formats only used on social – most notably hashtags. Make sure that CamelCase is used for multi-word hashtags. Capitalising the first letter of each word helps people using screen readers by ensuring that they are read out correctly, as well as making hashtags easier to read for all.
It’s best practice to include hashtags and mentions at the end of your text. Punctuation marks are read aloud by screen readers and it is important to consider how hashtags or ‘@’ mentions can disrupt the flow of copy for those using assistive tech to read it aloud.
Much like punctuation marks, emojis and emoticons are read aloud by assistive tech.
Text-to-speech software reads out a description for every emoji used, so try to avoid including a row of the same emoji in your posts. Otherwise someone using a screen reader will hear, “red heart red heart red heart red heart”, which is not only irritating but gets in the way of conveying your brands’ message.
Avoid using emojis to communicate a core message – the ‘official’ meaning of an emoji, the one which will be read out by assistive tech, may not match up with what you’re using it to say. For example, the emoji which is most often used to show hands in prayer was originally intended to show a high-five, but as with language, the meaning and usage has evolved.
Standing out from the crowd
While these changes are easy to make, inaccessible social media is still rife. For people with accessibility needs, particularly in the context of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, this significantly limits their ability to feel connected and to participate in social media in the way we would want them to.
By keeping your social media content accessible, you are prioritising inclusion and presenting information in a clear way, for the maximum number of people. Ultimately these actions are nothing ‘over and above’ genuinely good and effective marketing. They should be central to any brand-building endeavour.