Let’s talk about creating inclusive content. The goal of inclusive content is to ensure your messaging strikes a chord with everyone who comes across it. It’s about respecting and appreciating people’s diversity — whether that’s age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, ability, religion or sexual orientation.
Why Do You Need to Worry About Inclusive Content?
There are two main reasons for you to ensure your content is inclusive. First, we’re all businesspeople in this digital room: Inclusivity broadens your audience, which means you increase opportunities to market your brand, which, in turn, increases your bottom line. Second, it’s the right thing to do. Win-win-win.
There are myriad components of inclusive content — many of which are constantly changing. We’re going to look at two major aspects to keep in mind as you take steps to make your content more approachable, relatable and welcoming.
People are, of course, at the very core of inclusivity, so we’ll focus the most on this aspect. When creating inclusive content, you want to cast your gaze both externally and internally — that is, you need to consider both your audience as well as your team.
Audience (aka Users or Readers)
It’s more important than ever to think of your audience — and not just in terms of age, household size and income level. Inclusive content considers users on a much more personal level, thinking of them as people and not just demographic statistics. For instance, if you’re writing about exploring national parks, you can note accessible trails or visitor center services for people with disabilities. And if your latest social media campaign revolves around skiing, provide a range of experiences for all skill and budget levels rather than assuming all your readers are Olympic hopefuls with monogrammed ski boots. Or maybe you’re covering family camping trips, and you make a point to not use language that assumes all families are headed by one mom and one dad who are married.
Your imagery is just as important as the words. Inclusive imagery allows people to imagine themselves visiting a destination or taking part in an experience. In addition, when people see themselves represented in imagery, they’re more likely to feel welcome and that the messaging is speaking to them. And it just makes sense when you think about it. Why would a Black family feel any strong connection to your messaging if all your images are of white families? And why would a romantic-getaway campaign showcasing only male-female couples resonate with the LGBTQ+ community?
You also want to think beyond who will consume your content to how they’ll do so — especially if the content is digital. User experience is key, as you want your messaging to be understood by and relatable to everyone. Ask yourself questions like:
- Has copy been written in clear, straightforward language that’s easy to understand for all reading levels?
- Will it be cleanly translated, or have you used a lot of euphemisms and clever turns of phrase that might get lost in translation? (This applies to both digital copy that’s run through apps and printed copy that’s sent out for translation.)
- How will a screen reader (assistive technology primarily used by those with vision impairments) engage with my content?
- What other accessibility factors should I consider?
Ensuring there’s diverse representation on your team is crucial to creating authentic content that resonates with a wider audience. For example, if you asked me — a towering 5’2” giant — and a 6-foot-tall person to describe how to get something from the top shelf of a cabinet, their version would likely not involve swatting items with a spatula. We each have unique takes on the situation because of our differences, and this, of course, is applicable to everything from cultural backgrounds to sexual orientation. For your content to be truly relatable, it needs to be authentic.
Obviously, the first place you want to start is to incorporate DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) into your overall hiring practices, so you can ensure diversity on your in-house team. In addition, partnering with diverse consultants, contractors or freelancers is an excellent way to incorporate fresh, authentic perspective into your work.
But here’s the catch for both your in-house team and contract employees: You must give them the freedom to bring their own approach to topics and present their ideas for content so that it’s genuine. Their different experience from yours may elevate a topic or angle you’ve never thought of, so be sure there’s room in your plan for content you didn’t expect at the outset.
If you’re not sure how to do this, here are some simple steps you can implement:
- Let your team members pitch their own ideas.
- If team members are uncomfortable speaking up in brainstorms, gauge their interest in topics by providing opportunities to pitch via email or individual meetings.
- Avoid pigeonholing: Don’t assume that someone wants to be the subject matter expert because of their diverse identity.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We get it — this is a journey, and it will take some adjustments to make this work for your team.
- Most importantly, seek guidance from DEI consultants when you need it.
Another method of ensuring authentic inclusive content is to work with subject matter experts. For instance, if you’re concepting an article on Native American heritage sites, make sure you’re reaching out to members of the Native American community with a close connection to those lands for interviews and fact-checking so that your copy is accurate and respectful.
A good old-fashioned content audit is the best way to get the ball rolling on creating inclusive content. If you’re not already working with DEI consultants, this is an excellent time to bring them in. Consultants can be a huge help to refining your content-creation process, as they provide fresh, expert eyes and objective viewpoints — all while keeping your goals and KPIs in mind.
Here are some things to evaluate in your audit:
What are you missing?
Examine all your content, including print, web, enews and social, to identify any gaps. As you go, note places where you could improve. Perhaps your contracted influencers and talent (photographers, models, illustrators, etc.) could represent more diverse perspectives. Or maybe your landing page about history in your area could better celebrate the important cultural groups who played a part in shaping modern-day cities and regions — an overdue (and refreshing) departure from history lauding white enslavers with powdered wigs. Maybe your image library falls short when it comes to representation of people from diverse backgrounds, and it’s time for some photoshoots to correct that.
Where are your ideas coming from?
It’s worth repeating that your team should include diverse representation. I’d also recommend consuming content from diverse creators — like blogs, videos, social media channels, etc. — to better understand user interests as well as the current climate of DEI. Inclusive content is not something you can read one book or article on and consider yourself done. This is a continuously evolving movement, so it’s important to constantly seek opportunities to learn more.
How dusty is your in-house style guide?
If your style guide still says you can’t end a sentence with a preposition, it might be out of date. Language is of the utmost importance when it comes to inclusivity, so your style guide should be a living document that’s updated regularly on topics like how to respectfully address people, avoiding gendered language, how to respectfully cover content on cultural celebrations or heritage sites and so forth. The AP Stylebook does offer some guidance regarding inclusive language and is a good starting point; however, there’s no one official inclusive style guide to rule them all so it’s your responsibility to curate guidelines that work best for your brand.
One important note here: A lot of travel brands promote historical attractions. When updating your style guide, make it a point to include not sugarcoating tragic historical events. Be real.
What roles does inclusivity play in your content strategy?
As you move forward, make sure inclusivity is a part of your overarching content strategy. This is a long-term effort, and you can’t just toss up a handful of cultural and heritage articles or posts and call it a day. That’s not inclusive — it’s performative. Instead, make inclusivity a KPI and permanent investment by earmarking consistent funds and staff hours for the creation of inclusive content. This makes your goal actionable, keeps you accountable and is measurable. As you’re considering campaigns, promotions or new materials, always be mindful of the people involved — both audience and team — and your process.