A How-To Guide on Creating an Inclusive Social Media Presence Online
Every Pride, a variety of social media handles will take part in a change in their avatar to represent the “season”. They may also create a rainbow-themed product, or feature the more “diverse” members of their payroll. It often (not always!) comes with good intention, however once Pride season has well and truly finished, the avatars revert back and their feeds are awash with heteronormativity.
But, whilst this seasonal allyship is not acceptable, for other communities they don’t ever have this opportunity to see themselves at the forefront. For other people, they’re never represented. They’re never seen. They’re not heard. It is not ok that in 2020 you don’t see any wheelchair users advertising high street clothing, or trans people people on the television discussing home insurance, or masculine women as the face of the latest package holidays. What is so divisive about representing all of society?
Several years ago, the only way to advertise (visually) was in newspapers and magazines or television and film, however these days there is a plethora of opportunities for brands to get their product out there. Social media outlets, blogs and YouTube Channels, and podcasts are just a few options available. There’s also a spectrum of people out there ready to collaborate, however despite all of this variety available, it is very rare that you see it.
A lot of this is down to a lack of representation in the decision making departments – why would you think to work with a person with a disability if you don’t have anyone with a disability on your team? But a lot of this is down to representation at the very front. Why would a brand choose to work with a trans woman if people aren’t asking for them to be seen. If the majority or those with more privilege are happy to accept the usual homogeneous imagery and narrative, why would brands change the error of their ways?
This is why visibility and representation matters.
Using Your Platform
You might not think it, but as a social media user you have a lot of power. You have a platform. It’s the same power you have as a consumer. Put that together with an opinion and a voice and you have the opportunity to move mountains. Of course social media comes with it’s own ugly side but the majority of the time people are out there trying to do some good.
If people spent the same amount of energy on their social voice as they do when their local supermarket delivers a rotten avocado then can you imagine what that might do to help the trans community and other minority groups? As I’ve written countless times before, you don’t have to stand at the front of protest marches to make a difference, or even write a sternly worded letter, but by making subtle changes in your every day it changes the norm long term. It starts to change the narrative and usualises an image.
Here are just a few things you can do to make social media a more inclusive place:
You don’t have to make massive gestures to include a community, acts such as including pronouns in your bio or on your signature, or featured as an option on application forms makes a huge difference but doesn’t require much effort. The same goes for assuming someone’s gender. You should never assume someone’s gender, the same way you shouldn’t assume their sexual orientation. The less assumptions, the better.
Bigger gestures, such as avoiding heteronormativity, require more effort as they’re often traits you’ve had from birth, but with practise and some quick correction of words you’ll soon learn. If you’re a business, try and step away from homogeneous setups when it comes to your branding. Not only is it dull and boring, but it doesn’t include or represent the whole of society.
One of the bigger steps towards being more inclusive, is the consideration towards creating an inclusion rider. I refer to this brilliant post by Vix Meldrew, but in essence it’s making a concerted effort to ask about a company or brand’s diversity “rating” (for one of a better word) before you work with them. It’s being confident in your approach and making it about the brand doing the right thing.
Again, there’s a huge variety of ways you can be more inclusive on social media, with some requiring a little more effort than others, the same goes for imagery – which is probably one of most important things to get right as it’s likely to be the first thing you see before you read something. Starting with the smaller items, such as using default emojis in text messages, tweets and captions, it requires little effort (tell me, again, why you’re using a dark skinned emoji if you’re white?) and you’re less likely to cause unnecessary offence. The same goes for Gifs that feature people of colour aka “digital black face”. This post explains the issue with it perfectly, but in summary – don’t do it (unless you’re a person of colour!).
Depending on whether you blog or not, or regularly post to instagram, will determine this next one, but making sure you include image descriptions (or alt-text) on your images is so important when it comes to making sure those with visual impairments are included. If you’ve been blogging or ‘gramming for a long time, the thought of going back and updating all your images sounds like a mammoth task, but if you did a few images a day (or paid someone to do it!) you will slowly become more inclusive to a new community – which is gold if you use your platform to earn a living.
It goes without saying that adding subtitles / captions your Instagram stories, IGTV’s and videos will also earn you diversity and inclusion points. I, for one, rarely listen to stories with the sound on – can you imagine what Instagram is like for those who are deaf? There are lots of options these days to help you with task. You can either manually type the captions out (which gets easier the more you do it!), which is also great if you ramble like me as you can then just write a summary instead, or you can download one of many apps that subtitle as you go.
Staying on the same subject of making social media more inclusive to the deaf community, Title Case Hashtags is a new realisation for me and I’ve only recently made sure that my Hashtags look a certain way (I now avoid the hashtag sticker on Instagram as it only allows one case). If you don’t know what I mean, I’m talking about #OneTwoThree as opposed to #onetwothree. Imagine how that sounds to a deaf person who’s app is reading the text for them?
Diversifying Your Feed
This is probably the most valuable way to be more inclusive on social media, as you’re learning straight from the experiences of those communities. That being said, simply following a diverse number of community members isn’t going to win you ‘Ally of The Year’, if you think that’s all you need to do. No no. You have to listen and learn, as well as follow their lead. Do as someone has asked if they’re asking you to caption your stories. Surely you want to keep them as a follower? If I mute or unfollow people who don’t caption, I’m sure dozens of others do too.
If you have a large platform or engaged following, featuring a variety of communities on your social channels will get strong messages out there and, in turn, diversify someone else’s feed. But, be careful not to come across as tokenistic. Don’t only feature LGBTQ people during Pride month, feature them all year round just like any other person. The same goes for sharing diverse content. You don’t have to share tons of divisive material, or seasonal content, but sharing a post about pronouns (and not just during Trans Awareness Week) or ways you can be less ableist will stop other communities from having to do all the hard work. Sharing it throughout the year also means there’s less of an influx during a certain time of the year, meaning your content will likely get read over others.
Just like an inclusion rider, creating community guidelines if you run a forum or Facebook group linked to your blog goes a long way. It shows people wanting to join where you stand on particular topics and it’s a powerful tool in the event of having to remove people from a group because of their views (to avoid arguments, make sure you confirm that people have agreed to them before joining!).
So there we have it, a no-excuses guide to creating a more inclusive social media footprint. If you have any suggestions or ways I can improve this, I’d love to hear them. Equally, I want to hear any stories where people, brands, or companies have got it right!
Thanks for reading!