This guide is a collection of our learnings about inclusive and accessible social media engagement and leading practices for digital engagement.
Why Inclusive and Accessible Social Media Practices?
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.
Tips for Written Content
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.
Use The Correct Pronouns
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.
Learn The Basics
Use inclusive language throughout posts. If unsure if the language you are using is inclusive or appropriate, check out our Inclusive Language Guide.
Be Strategic with #'s and @'s
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.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Avoid using culturally specific references as much as possible. Some people may not understand or relate, leading to a sense of exclusion.
Black Vernacular English
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.
Content or Trigger Warnings
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:
- Sexual assault
- Violence, death
- Offensive/derogatory language
- Misogyny, racism, transphobia, etc. (discrimination)
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.
Our Community Standards
- We encourage thoughtful discussion, debate, and interaction among social media users, including sharing opinions, complaints, or disagreements.
- We ask that comments and published content be respectful, stay on topic, and that people engage in a constructive manner.
- We reserve the right to delete comments or posts—without notice—that do not comply with these guidelines. Our social media channels are expressly limited to comments or posts that comply with these guidelines.
- We understand that users come from different lived experiences and hold varying beliefs and viewpoints, and we also understand that we are all at different stages of the learning journey.
- Obscenities, profanities, personal attacks, threatening, harassing, discriminatory, trolling, hate speech, inappropriate or abusive content, and defamatory comments about any person, group, organization, or belief are not permitted and will be deleted.
- When responding to comments or posts, do not assume anything about a person’s gender, identity, or anything else. Instead, address them by their name.
Tips for Visual Content
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.
Ask for Consent
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.
Minimize Negative Impact
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 and Colour Contrast
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.
Colour and Symbols
- Use high contrast colours (such as dark text on a light background or the inverse).
- Avoid relying on colour for meaning. Colour can mean different things in different cultures.
- Use symbols. In graphs or infographics, use symbols or patterns as an alternative or addition to colour. Or, add clarifying labels.
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.
Inclusive Emoji Use
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.
- Use non-gendered and neutral emojis when possible.
- Use multiple colours of emojis (when possible) to encourage racial diversity and to avoid depicting white as “neutral” or the default skin tone.
- Use arrows or other icons to point in lieu of a white hand.
- Don’t use a darker skin tone emoji to show solidarity if you are white.
- Use emojis that break stereotypes.
- Consider how your emoji use will impact those with blindness or low vision. Screen readers, also known as text-to-speech, interpret an emoji by reading a description of the emoji out loud. To provide a good experience for those with visual impairments, avoid using multiples of the same emoji frivolously so the screen reader won’t read "cherry, cherry, cherry, cherry, cherry."
Inclusive GIF and Meme Use
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.
BVE and GIFs
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.
Text and Font
If formatting text on images, you should consider the following key points.
- Making text and visuals large can help people take in information. This includes “less important” information like graphs, image captions, footnotes, URLs, and references.
- 'Sans Serif' fonts such as Arial are great.
- Be generous with spacing (between letters, words, and lines).
- Use bold for emphasis - underlines and italics are less identifiable.
- Use mixed case, not all caps.
- Keep web links short. Try Bitly as a link shortener.
Posting on Social Media
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.
- Convey the content and functionality of the image. There’s a huge gap between “Image of a chart” and something like, “A bar chart illustrates that there has been a year-over-year increase in forest fires, peaking at 100 this year.”
- The caption and alt-text need to be a cohesive message. If paired with a caption, avoid making the alt-text the same. This will read out both and will be redundant.
- Share humour. Descriptive text doesn’t have to be overly formal and should do its best to express what’s funny.
- Transcribe text. If the image has copy that is central to its meaning, make sure you include it in the description.
- Read it out loud. Alt-text is often read by screen readers, so read copy aloud to hear how it sounds.
- Skip writing “image of.” This is often irrelevant and commonly understood.
Learn From The Best
WebAIM offers tips and good examples, Phase2 provides a number of scenarios, and copywriter Ashley Bischoff offers a number of tips.
How to Add Alt Text to Your Social Media
Facebook New Photo
- Create a post and select "photo/video."
- Once you've selected the media, hover over it and select the paintbrush that says, ‘edit photo.’
- On the right-hand side of the new window, select "ALT text."
- Type your description and press ‘Save.’ Share your image as usual.
Facebook Already Uploaded Photo
- Go to the photo you have already uploaded.
- Select options on the bottom right.
- Select "Change Alt Text."
- Select override automatically generated alt text.
- Change the automatically generated text to a specific caption.
- Select “Save.”
- Compose a tweet and attach your photo(s).
- Select "Add description."
- Enter your description of each image and select the "Done" button. The limit is 420 characters.
- Share your image as usual.
- Start a post at the top of your LinkedIn timeline. Select the image icon and upload image(s).
- Once the image displays, select "Add description."
- Add your descriptive text in the Alternative Text box. You have 120 characters to describe your image.
- Select "Save" in the Alternative Text box.
- Share your image as usual.
- Once you’re ready to post a photo (after filtering/editing the image), select “Next.”
- Select “Advanced Settings.”
- Select “Alt Text.”
- Enter your alt-text in the box.
- Select “Done.”
- Select the back arrow.
- Share your image as usual.
Alt Text for Gifs
- Include any descriptions of people or animals in the image. If it’s a celebrity, it’s okay to just include their name - no additional physical description is necessary.
- For GIFs from a TV show, movie, or other media, include the character names and the name of the show, i.e., “Rose and The Doctor from Doctor Who.”
- The background/setting if relevant.
- Any emotion or relevant movement, such as if someone is surprised or if the camera zooms in quickly.
- Write out any relevant text that is on the screen. A stop sign in the background that has nothing to do with the GIF doesn’t need to be mentioned, but captions do.
- Additional visual effects, if relevant, such as the colour scheme or if there are lots of flashing lights.
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.
Hashtags and Social Justice
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.
- When editing a video to post on Facebook, select the Subtitles & Captions section in the pop-up window.
- Then enter the language for the subtitles you are creating.
- Once you have selected the language, immediately below that you will see all the options for creating your captions: auto-generate, write, upload.
- The "write" option lets you start from a blank screen and type out the subtitles by hand, matching each frame of text to the video.
- If you choose “auto-generate,” always review and edit them if needed.
- Once you've taken or uploaded one or more video clips for your Reel, select the “Preview” button.
- Select the Stickers icon.
- Select the Captions sticker.
- You'll see a preview of the captions as they will appear on your final post.
Do You Require Live Captioning?
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.
Citing or Crediting Sources
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:
- Credit the author of the original content in a caption, in a tag, and in the social card (if using one).
- If the author or creator does not use social media, consider sharing their work or website with a link in your bio.
- If reposting a social card on your Instagram stories, tag the creators account so folks can properly find their work, and support their page.
- Instead of rewriting something that was shared on Twitter, default to retweeting it with your own caption for any additions.
Leveraging Social Media with Intention
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 is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at email@example.com with suggestions.
About The Author
This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.
Give Credit Where Credit's Due
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. (2022). "40+ Dimensions of Diversity and the Many Intersections"