Improving Engagement with Accessible Social Media

Nicholas Heywood, MSc Digital Marketing Management

Creating accessible social media content can not only increase your engagement but also include an audience often overlooked: people with disabilities. Whether your goal is to increase online traffic to your business, social media, or blog, inclusion is the best approach. Accessibility goes beyond considering physical constraints, it’s actually a lot more sophisticated than that.

Why Accessible Social Media Is Important

Image Description: Infographics demonstrating the information discussed in this section and a data table estimating how many people in millions have specific disabilities, including 1.6 million blind people in the UK. End of Image Description.
Department of Work & Pensions, 2019; Office of National Statistics, 2018; CAP Survey, 2016; GOV.UK, 2014.

Take a moment to think about how content engages you: is it something you see or read? Does a deal sound good to you? Unfortunately, some audiences can’t see/hear the attraction behind it and need to be engaged another way to include them. The UK alone has over 13.5 million people with declared disabilities, beyond a fifth of our growing population.

The Office of National Statistics find that 80% of disabled adults use the internet frequently, increasing every year. The 2016 Click-Away Pound Survey suggests that 71% of participants (approximately 4 million) disengage with inaccessible websites or content. A new CAP Survey is in progress while the current results certainly emphasise the importance of online accessibility for engagement.

Marketers and businesses failing to meet this increasing demand for accessible content risk a gradual decline in engagement and revenue. The Business Disability Forum quotes a credible but outdated total spending power of people with disabilities as £80 billion per year. However, a recent government press release states a much higher total of £249 billion per year.

Improving Content Accessibility

Image Description: Explanation of how alternate text is used, using a red dress on sale as an example to describe features such as length and neckline. End of Image Description.
Sources: Twitter and Instagram

Ofcom reports confirm a large majority of visually-impaired people actively use mobile devices. Alternative Text describes images aloud through screen readers if a description is included, and is available on TwitterInstagram and Facebook. The latter includes automatic alternative text for recognisable objects within the image, indicating further AI use in social media marketing.

AI is becoming an integral part in social media’s evolution by contributing to complex tasks such as collecting and analysing big data. Accessibility expert Matt King believes AI will contribute to removing the barriers of disabilities in the not-too-distant future. Until this is feasible, we need to fill that gap by making our content as accessible as possible.

Describe the image and any included text with clear and concise language. Remember: your description becomes their eyes and key parts of your content could be missed without this.

Include Captions

Image Description: A visual summary of the points discussed in this section. End of Image Description
Mobile Marketing Magazine, 2018; LinkedIn, 2017; Instapage, 2018; Tubular Labs, 2018 y

Video content is in high global demand that continuously engages and grows on social media. Captioned videos include viewers deaf/hard-of-hearing or watching without sound and can aid translation in other countries. Including a transcript can improve your Video SEO ranking and keyword search results by indexing its contents to contextualise it. You can create transcripts for any language/accent with ease by using tools such as Voice Typing in Google Docs.

Up to 85% of Facebook users allegedly watch videos without sound in recent years. Studies provide credibility by suggesting that captioned videos gain 40% engagement and 12% of Instapage viewers turned their sound on during a silent test. The ideal approach is to design video content to work with and without sound to avoid excluding blind audiences too.

You can caption videos through video editing suites like Adobe Premiere Pro or even Notepad to create subtitle files to use on YouTube, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Online tools like Kapwing and Facebook or YouTube captioning tools can reduce time and costs if you’re on a tight budget/deadline. Twitter and Instagram currently lack more accessible ways to add captions without using third party software.

Challenges Facing Content Creators

Business Attitudes Towards Accessibility

Image Description: Infographics demonstrating the information discussed in this section, including belief that 1 in 5 of us are disabled if not more. End of Image Description.
Sources: Department of Work & Pensions, 2019; Office of National Statistics, 2018; CAP Survey, 2016; GOV.UK, 2019

Creating accessible content will contribute to additional hours from your team’s budget and you may need to negotiate a budget increase. This could be tricky because not all businesses are comfortable increasing budgets and may fail to understand the importance. Using what you’ve learned from this could help provide justification for the budget increase.

Understanding the importance of accessibility remains a grey area for most businesses, and your input could fill that gap. Almost half the British public don’t know how many disabled people there are in the UK, but you do now.

Another angle to consider is that lacking accessibility gives competitors an advantage because disabled customers may opt for companies that do. The spending power mentioned before demonstrates the potential financial loss if this is ignored and how providing it would give a better competitive edge.

Scheduling & Posting Accessible Social Media Content

Image Description: A visual of how Buffer, Hootsuite, and Loomly do and don't support alternative text. Only Twitter is supported on Buffer and Hootsuite. End of Image Description.
Sources: Twitter, Instagram, Buffer, Hootsuite, Loomly

Accessible content is not just down to the content creators and budget limitations. It’s also down to the capabilities of the tools and resources they use to publish it.

Post scheduling tools may save time, but some of these tools do not come with Alternative Text. Posts may require a manual upload in some cases, supporting the argument that distributing engaging content takes time to perfect. Upon close analysis: Buffer and Hootsuite offer alternative text for Twitter but not Instagram yet, while Loomly doesn’t.

This wouldn’t be as much of an obstacle for content creators if Twitter and Instagram had independent post Schedule functions like Facebook. Although Facebook’s is not flawless since alternative text can only be provided after publishing the post.

Growing social networks among younger audiences like Tik Tok pose their own challenges of distributing accessible content. Despite claims to enable everyone to be a creator, there are currently no accessibility settings and limited features to be inclusive. This sparks concern of whether future emerging social networks will understand the importance of accessibility and include it.