Alt text on social media: what you need to know

13th June

Published by Vicky

13th June

What is alt text, and why should we use it to make our social content accessible?

Are your social media posts accessible?

When you post do you consider whether someone with visual disabilities might experience them? Social media has come a long way in the last few years, with helping to ensure that content is accessible to all users. These days increasing the accessibility of the content you post on social media is easier than ever and something we should all be considering with everything we post.

How to increase the accessibility of social media posts

What is alt text?

Alt text – or alternative text – is text that describes what is going on in an image. Alt text is used in images on websites, and when an image doesn’t load on a site you’ll often see the alt text instead. Alt text is important for accessibility because it is this text that is read by screen reading software, allowing people with visual impairment to understand what is happening in the image.

Alt text on social media images

Facebook and Twitter have long allowed alt text on images, and now Instagram – arguably the most visual of platforms – has caught up with them.

Alt text for Facebook images

When you upload an image to Facebook, it will automatically generate alt text. This is usually very basic such as “1 person sitting” and so it is always worth going in to check and edit the automatically generated text to ensure it reflects what’s going on in your image.

How to edit alt text on Facebook images

To check and edit alt text on a Facebook image, simply click “Options” at the bottom of the image, and select “Change alt text.” This will bring up a dialogue box, showing what the automatically generated alt text is, and giving you the option to override this with your own description. So instead of “1 person sitting” you might want to say “Jenny is sitting on a chair next to her desk, speaking on the phone.”

Alt text for Twitter images

Twitter doesn’t automatically add alt text to images, but you can easily change your settings to allow alt text to be added to images. As it’s alt text, it is not visible as a part of your Tweet – but it will be picked up by screen readers.

How to add alt text to Tweets

Go to your account settings. If you’re an Android user, select Accessibility. If you’re on iOS, select Display and Sound and then Accessibility. Then tick the “Compose image descriptions” box. Now when you Tweet an image the option to “Add description” will appear, and you can describe what is going on in your image.

Alt text for Instagram images

Instagram began introducing the capability to add alt text to images late in 2018, and it’s now widely used across the platform. According to their blog, Instagram will now automatically add alt text to images posted on the platform using object recognition software – but you can also add your own alt text to ensure it’s more descriptive and relevant.

How to add alt text to Instagram images

When you’re uploading a new image, simply tap “advanced settings” on the page where you caption your image. This provides the option to “Write alt text.”

If you want to add alt text to an existing post, simply click the three dots at the top-right and select “Edit.” The option to “Edit alt text” will now appear in the bottom-right corner of the image.

What alt text should I add to my images?

Here are some tips for adding alt text to your social media images:

  • Try to make your alt text as descriptive as possible. Imagine someone with no prior knowledge of your business has just asked you what is in the picture; what would you say?
  • Be as specific as you can, but also focus on what you want people to remember about your image. Do you want them to remember the colour of the props in the image? The expression on the person’s face?
  • If your image includes a quote or other wording, be sure to include it in your alt text.
  • If your image includes you or members of your team, mention them by name
  • Use keywords where relevant. Alt text is often used for SEO purposes, and while we are talking about its use for accessibility here, you can use it for both if you’re careful. Don’t stuff keywords, but include your main target keyword where it’s relevant and could genuinely be used to describe the image.

It’s important to consider accessibility when posting to social media; having vision impairment should not exclude your audience from being able to join the conversation.