Social media is available to nearly anyone with an enabled device, and each user represents an opportunity to connect. So, if your goal as an organization is to have a greater impact or increase your following, it’s important to make sure you’re reaching each person as effectively as possible. Unfortunately, there are some common mistakes that can make it difficult for some audiences — such as those who speak a different language, have visual impairments or hearing loss, or are neurodivergent — to connect with your message.
Before we move ahead, let me note that it is key for organizations to define their target demographic(s) and tailor their outreach accordingly; however, there is a difference between crafting targeted messaging and acting as a gatekeeper. Whether you’re posting to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other social network, staying mindful of others can help to avoid creating barriers. Read on for tips to make your social media posts more accessible.
Use Plain Language
Be careful about using industry-specific jargon and undefined acronyms, which can make your audience feel like they’re not part of the “in crowd.” The same can be said for many idioms, clichés, and regional sayings. When using any of these, you leave your message up for interpretation, and its impact may be lost in translation — figuratively or literally.
For example, I’m from a region of the U.S. where the phrase “bless your heart” is common, but its meaning can vary wildly depending on who’s saying it and the inflection used. If I were to include that phrase in a caption for an Instagram post, readers would have no choice but to infer my meaning from the context, leaving the caption open to misinterpretation. This alone is problematic within the English language, but if a reader is using an automated translation service, the intent behind the phrase can become even more muddled.
Provide Subtitles or Transcripts
Adding subtitles or transcripts for video content allows different audiences — including those with hearing loss, those who process visual text better than they process auditory text, and those who simply want to keep their audio on silent — to enjoy your content in a way that suits their needs and preferences. (And now that most social media sites have captions built into their ecosystems, creators no longer have to type in the subtitles themselves, making it easier to provide this alternative.)
Similarly, if you’re posting a video or radio interview to your website, it’s equally important to offer a transcript of the audio. While accessibility is the key here, adding a transcript also has the added bonus of benefitting your on-page SEO. Finally, if hosting a webinar, enable closed captions. This makes it easier for everyone to follow along.
Optimize for Screen Readers
Screen reading software converts digital text into braille or audio. This software is a common adaptive technology used by those with visual impairments as well as those who process auditory text better than written text and those who can speak a language but may not be able to read it fluently. The audio output of these tools is only as good as your input, though, so consider the following tips.
- Provide quality alt text for all images. When a screen reader comes upon an image, the software searches for alt text that it can read aloud to describe the image. If there’s no alt text, that follower is left without context of what the image displays. Many social networking sites let you add alt text to photos, but for those that do not, you can and should still add it into the photo’s caption instead. Simply describe what’s going on in the image, including any text within it.
- Avoid using stylized fonts. It may look fun or unique to use a font generator to add stylized fonts into your captions, social media bio, or even blog posts, but they are not nearly as accessible as standard fonts. A stylized font can be difficult for any follower to read, and for those using screen readers or translation services — it can be incomprehensible. When in doubt, go for something standard. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, fonts like Times New Roman, Georgia, Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana make text easier to read.
- Use camel-case hashtags. Camel case, when referring to hashtags, means capitalizing the first letter of each word. See the examples below. Which are easier to read?
Camel-case hashtags are more readily processed, both visually and by screen readers, than their non-capitalized counterparts. Without the cue of capitalization, screen readers will often read multi-word hashtags as one long (and often nonsensical) word.
- Finally, be careful with emoji. These little images can be adorable, but be sure to use them appropriately. Don’t use emoji in place of words or in the middle of a sentence, as this can make your message difficult to interpret and cause confusion for those using screen readers or translation tools. See the examples below.
Eat more 🍇🍐🥕🥒
Eat more fruits 🍇🍐 and 🥕🥒
Eat more fruits and vegetables. 🍇🍐🥕🥒
Now that we’ve tackled making your text more accessible, you might be wondering whether your design practices might need some work, too. See accessibility tips from PRI’s creative team to learn about design inclusivity, accessibility compliance, and user-accessible color palettes.