This guide is a collection of our learnings about inclusive and accessible social media engagement and leading practices for digital engagement.
Social media is an essential tool for communication. When used properly, it can provide a range of users with necessary, engaging, and topical information about our brands and the world around us. However, when inclusion and accessibility are not at the forefront, it can exacerbate inequity and cause barriers to inclusion.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion live in how we create and develop materials and the way we post and format them to the platforms we use. Inclusive design must be at the foundation of our social media practices. Inclusive design accounts for a range of diversity—including ability, language, gender, age, and other factors—by creating a variety of ways for people to engage. This guide is a collection of our learnings to date regarding inclusive and accessible social media engagement, along with some leading practices for digital engagement.
Overall, keeping social media accessible and inclusive means recognizing exclusion, learning from your (potential) followers, and presenting information in the clearest ways possible.
How we write and engage with followers should not do more harm than good. When writing captions for photos to accompany articles or as standalone posts, proofread any written content through the lens of equity, inclusion, and accessibility. The following are some key points to keep in mind.
If using pronouns to refer to someone, make sure you are using their correct pronouns. Do not assume someone’s gender pronouns. Instead, ask for them. And if you cannot ask, use their name.
Use inclusive language throughout posts. If unsure if the language you are using is inclusive or appropriate, check out our Inclusive Language Guide.
Add hashtags and mentions at the end of your captions. Punctuation marks are read aloud by screen readers, so hashtags or @ mentions can disrupt copy.
If using technical terms for your specific field or industry, do not assume everyone is familiar with the language. Explain jargon, scientific, legal, and economic terms. Learn about harmful language that may be in your industry by reading "Language & Inclusion: An Analysis Across Industries" on our blog.
Avoid using culturally specific references as much as possible. Some people may not understand or relate, leading to a sense of exclusion.
If you are non-Black, avoid using Black Vernacular English (BVE) when writing captions or adding GIFs. While often used to seem “relatable,” words such as “lit,” “woke,” “bae,” “ratchet,” “sis,” “slay, “hella,” or “basic,” and phrases such as “straight up,” “on fleek,” “I feel you,” or “turn up,” are common sayings that are often misused or overly emphasized.
When BVE is used by non-Black people, it erases its origin and history while commodifying parts of Black culture. Learn more about its history by reading "Using BVE as a Non-Black Person Is Appropriation" on our blog.
When posting or sharing content that may be potentially traumatic or set off negative emotions for some people, consider providing a content warning. This can be done in the caption of the article or image or on the first social card on a series of posts.
Do your due diligence to make sure the content warning is the first thing folks engage with before the potentially triggering content. This gives people the power to decide or prepare themselves to engage. The following are some topics that you should include warnings for:
When providing a platform for engagement online, you cannot guarantee the space will be safe for everyone to engage with your content. However, you can put in the effort to set a standard for the types of interactions that are appropriate. One method of doing so is through creating Community Standards.
Community standards outline how the account page is committed to creating an inclusive space through how you will engage and expect others to engage. Some ideas to include are as follows.
When using images, try to be authentic about representation. If there is a group photo, does it include a diversity of body size and shape, socialized race, gender expression, religious expression, abilities, etc.? Review your timelines or feeds, and ask yourself critical questions such as, what types of people are represented? Is there one group that is depicted more than others?
Too often, brands over-represent young, white, straight, non-disabled, cis-gender men in their imagery. Not only does this often miss the mark, but it can also marginalize those who don’t fit that description.
Consider using stock images that represent a diversity of experiences. Check out some of these:
When being intentional about image diversity, avoid using certain groups to represent stereotypical messages. For example, there are limited options when sourcing images of women or racialized people in positions of power. Instead, they are often represented as “sassy” for comedic purposes. Counter stereotypes in your imagery.
If you are using photos of team members, ensure you have their full consent by telling them where and how you're going to use their image.
Avoid reproducing unrealistic beauty standards. Consider the role you can play in helping to minimize social media's negative effect on mental health as much as possible.
Consider role assignment and portrayal as well. Are women always cleaning? Is romance always heterosexual?
Colour contrast values help make images and text visible. Almost one in seven people have some form of vision impairment, ranging from colour blindness to low vision, near vision, or blindness. In fact, Facebook’s colour scheme is blue because its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is red-green colourblind.
There are specific resources to support you in determining sufficient colour contrast. Aim for a ratio of 4.5:1.
Flashing lights (specifically flashing three times/second) are dangerous and sometimes cause seizures. Don’t use flashing lights in the videos, gifs, and animations you produce. Whatever effect you are trying to achieve, you can probably achieve in another way.
Visualize links. Add an underline or a hover animation to convey that you can click hyperlinked text.
Emojis are more than the silly, fun visuals we include in our text messages; they are a pervasive means of communication that have taken on symbolic meanings of their own. As such, we must be intentional about using emojis inclusively.
Take some time to review our "Quick Guide to Inclusive Emoji Use" on our blog. The following are some high-level points.
When using GIFs and Memes to enhance a social media post, it is important not to do more harm than good. Because anyone can make GIFs, it is important to select a GIF or meme through a DEI lens. GIFs and memes can cause harm if they perpetuate stereotypes, reinforce discrimination, and/or mock marginalized communities. Inclusive representation and language are important when you choose to use GIFs or memes.
Black Vernacular English (BVE) is often harmfully used in reaction GIFs. These GIFs often represent Black women as “sassy” and extravagant while allowing non-Black users to use these images as an expression or image to complement their words. GIFs with transcripts become an opportunity for those not fluent in BVE to use the language, such as “hell no,” “girl, bye,” and “bitch, please.”
Ultimately, these images are relied upon to perform fury, annoyance, shade, or celebratory moments. Representation matters and the continual representation of Black people as an image to vocalize these expressions may reinforce stereotypes while failing to see the terms as more than a “punch line.” This has also been characterized as "digital blackface," which has ties to the representation of Black people in media and the arts throughout history. Learn more about this phenomenon by reading Memes and Misogynoir. Explore more about BVE in the Inclusive Language section.
If formatting text on images, you should consider the following key points.
Alternative (alt) text is an important method for accessible image posting. Alt-text is used to describe your photos for folks with visual needs. Keep the following key points in mind when using alt-text.
You can optimize hashtags in a variety of ways. They can help people find your content and generate new followers. However, this can only happen if everyone can engage with your hashtags.
Every word in a hashtag should be capitalized or in camel case. It is not only easier to engage or read, but screen readers are able to pick up each word individually instead of as one long word, which is undetectable. For example, #GenderEquityAndDiversity is better than #genderequityanddiversity.
Brands are often quick to support social movements by participating in hashtag campaigns. Think #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #LoveWins, #GirlsLikeUs, and #RefugeesWelcome among many others. While hashtag movements have been proven to make a difference, organizations often monetize social movements without actually backing them.
People often use hashtags to share resources, personal stories, organize, and show support. When using hashtags that back a wider movement or discuss an important social issue, be mindful that you are contributing constructively and genuinely to the conversation. Do not use these hashtags superficially or in a way that crowds out more meaningful information and testimonies such as the surge of Black tiles that overwhelmed the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on #BlackOutTuesday. To learn more, check out how Blackout Tuesday Drowned Out Vital information Shared Under the BLM Hashtag.
Whenever possible, videos or stories on Instagram and Facebook need to include live captions or subtitles. For those who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or who may rely on closed captioning, getting captions can be a lengthy and expensive process. Providing live captioning on your content ensures equity and inclusion in this process. The following are some methods that can support you with this.
If you are someone who requires the use of live captioning, check out Live Captioning for Remote Meetings & More. It offers two scenarios where you can use speech-to-text apps to help bring live captioning to your next remote meeting or social hangout.
There are so many accounts on social media that are coming up with thoughtful and useful resources, social cards, articles, and posts. Reshare them! But when doing so, be sure to credit them properly and sufficiently for this work.
Members of dominant groups often appropriate the ideas and messages of marginalized creators, and as a result, receive praise and recognition for work they did not do. Citing is an essential feminist and equity practice.
When doing so, keep the following in mind:
Social media can be a useful place for you to affirm your commitment and actions for inclusion, take a stance on important social issues and current events, and provide forums for support. When done well, it can reach wider audiences and support culture-add in your company.
Your social media has the potential to be a productive source of interaction and engagement. And you may mess up along the way - that's completely natural in any learning journey. But when you do mess up, it’s how you make up for it that counts. If you create a caption, image, or post that is not accessible or inclusive - humble yourself. Take the post down and—depending on the situation—issue a sincere apology. Use it as an opportunity to educate others on accessibility and inclusion.
This resource reflects a particular moment in time, North America in 2021, and like most things in life, will eventually need updates. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, and languages. As such, this resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date.
Please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments.