Updated: May 7
When you look at the world around you, what do you see? Are most people just like you? Do they have a different worldview? Can they access the same websites, books, movies, stores, and cafes? I personally believe that it's important for everyone to acknowledge diversity and look for more ways to be inclusive of others. But for businesses and organisations marketing through social media, it is a crucial exercise! This is why I've pulled together 21 tips for improving your inclusiveness and accessibility. However, before we jump into the tips, let's look at a couple of definitions and think about the ways in which people can be diverse.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is about designing content, products, devices, services, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities (Source: Wikipedia). Creating accessible content means people with disabilities (and long-term health conditions) can view, consume, and engage with your content. This means more viewers/readers, more engagement, more followers, and more customers/clients! For example, making your in-image text bigger means people with low vision will be able to read your message and will feel like a valued part of your community.
What is inclusion?
Inclusion is providing "the best user experience for as many people as possible... [by shifting] away from the one-size-fits-all approach that centers around so-called 'average users'. Instead, inclusive design creates for a diverse range of users by addressing barriers and providing a variety of ways for people to engage" (Source: Hootsuite). Creating inclusive content is important because potential clients and customers are more likely to engage if they can see themselves represented in your content. For example, showing a range of ethnicities in your content means your clients will know that your services are open to and accepting of them!
How do people differ from one another?
Diversity isn't just about race or ethnicity; here are six other factors that may influence how someone views the world and interacts with it:
Culture (including the culture someone was born into but also the culture they integrated into as an adult),
Sub-culture (e.g. goth, punk, LGBTQIA+, Trekkies),
Age group or generation (e.g. boomers, millenials, gen Z all see the world diff)
Gender-identity (e.g. male, female, non-binary, gender diverse, and more)
Sexuality (e.g. heterosexual, gay, bisexual, pansexual, and more)
Health status and ability (mental illness, long-term health conditions, and disabilities can all impact how a person interacts with technology, media, products, and services)
Now that we've covered the background, take a moment to pause here and put yourself in the shoes of someone who differs from you in some way. Then look back through your last few weeks of social media posts and think about how that person would view your content. Can they read it all? Can they see people like them represented in your graphics? Do they feel accepted or judged? Would they feel inspired or welcome to leave a comment?
Now lets move on to the tips!
Here are four ways you can create content that is more inclusive of all genders:
When you're writing about a group of people or discussing people in general, use "they" instead of writing "he/she". For example, instead of "The volunteer will need to submit his/her CV", you could write "The volunteer will need to submit their CV".
Don't assume gender when you're responding to comments or messages. If the account doesn't display their pronouns, you can use their name, use 'they/them' pronouns, or try to find a respectful moment to ask for their pronouns.
Swap gender-biased words for non-gendered alternatives. For example, instead of 'manpower', use 'employees' or 'work force'. This might seem hard or labour-intensive at the start but I promise it gets easier the more you practice.
Try to be representative when using graphics or stock images; show a mix of genders whenever possible, or make a non-gendered graphic. This is also applicable to use of emojis.
Here are five ideas for creating content that is more inclusive of all ethnicities, races, and cultures:
When preparing your visual content, try to show a range of ethnicities and cultures in your graphics and stock images.
When using emojis, most authorities on this topic recommend using the yellow "skin tone" or using a range of skin tones.
Be aware of racial stereotypes and be careful not to perpetuate them - either in your images or written copy. For example, if you were discussing laziness and motivation, it would be a good idea to be aware of the prejudicial stereotype that people of colour are lazy, and avoid using *only* images of people of colour sleeping or relaxing.
Include words or phrases of the other official languages of your country. This shows solidarity with the people to which that language belongs and livens up your content! In Aotearoa NZ, this means including te reo Māori (the language of our indigenous people) place names, terms, greetings, and phrases, as well as incorporating elements of NZ Sign Language wherever possible. Save up a few greetings and phrases from other languages to use in one-to-one conversations (e.g. your DMs) to make your audience feel welcomed.
Finally, don't be afraid to call out others in the comments - especially the comments section on your posts! This shows that you're not just practicing tokenism; you're standing up for what's good and right!
Here are seven ways you can make your content more accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities or illnesses:
Use person-first language because people are not their disability or illness; they are so much more! Instead of writing “Lisa is a schizophrenic”, try “Lisa is a person living with schizophrenia”. One exception to this rule is for autistic people - most agree that autism is such a key part of their identity that they prefer label-first language to describe themselves.
Add captions to your videos so that people with hearing loss or noise sensitivities can still benefit from your content. Another reason to add captions is for people (like me) who prefer to do their social media scrolling with no sound.
When writing your captions, try to break up your larger paragraphs and avoid long, complicated sentences. Those in your audience who live with dyslexia or other processing disorders find it much easier to read smaller chunks.
When creating graphics, keep in mind that some people will have difficulty reading small text (especially if it’s a lightweight font or there is low contrast between the text and other elements). While it’s tricky to put a number on how small you can go, several design guides recommend keeping text at or above 16px (Source: Accessible Web).
Type your hashtags in camel case (e.g. #NotForProfitButForPeople) as screen readers really don’t cope well with long, lower-case hashtags. Capitalising each word in a hashtag gives the screen reader enough clues to read the hashtag just as a sighted person would and means people with low vision aren't just getting a garbled list of letters. People living with dyslexia or multilingual people may also find your hashtags easier to decipher in camel case.
Limit your use of emojis to a few per post. Emojis are great for conveying meaning but did you know that assistive tech reads each emoji’s description aloud (e.g. 💩 is read out as “pile of poo”)? If you're using a lot of emojis, people in your audience who use screen readers may give up on listening to your post, and they may avoid future content of yours.
Add alt. text or image descriptions so that people with low vision or blindness aren’t missing out.
And to expand on the last point above, here are five tips for writing alt. text:
Make sure to describe all the content featured, in full; don’t leave your audience with only half the story. For example, you need to write alt. text for each image in a carousel.
Remember to describe facial expressions, body language, and any key elements in the background of photos.
Mention the colours that are important for understanding context and nuances. For example, the colours of clothing, the sky, other natural features, animals, etc.
Another important part of understanding context is being aware of humour. If your visual content includes humorous elements (e.g. people are pulling silly faces), don’t leave it out!
Include all in-image text. This might feel repetitive to you, but people using alt. text will appreciate it greatly.
After all of that, are you feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the changes you should make to your content? To make it easier, try picking one tip to work on per week. It won't be long before a lot of this becomes second nature!
Note: While I have years of experience working in the healthcare and disability support sector, and identify as a member of a few minority groups, I am not an expert on this matter. I encourage all readers to read other sources on this topic and would suggest starting with one of the following: