With the increasing emphasis on visual content on social media, ensuring accessibility for all is paramount. Visuals on social media are not merely pictures; they convey information, evoke emotions and tell stories about your brand and your values. But what about those who rely on sound or touch to navigate the online space? Enter alternative text, also known as “alt text.”
Social media accessibility is no longer just a good-to-have feature; it's an essential tool in the arsenal of any effective marketer. Along with promoting inclusivity, alt text ensures that content reaches the widest possible audience.
In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into alt text, describing the purpose and providing instructions on how to use alt text for visual content on social media platforms.
Understanding Alt Text
Alt text offers a concise description of an image's primary visual information. Although generally invisible to sighted users, alt text embodies the core content and purpose of an image. Have you ever stumbled upon a webpage where an image failed to load, but a brief description popped up instead? That's alt text in action. It ensures that images are perceivable to those who experience the internet using sound or touch rather than sight.
Here is an example of effective alt text for the below image:
Alt text: “Assorted hot air balloons flying at a high altitude during the daytime.”
Some best practices for alt text include:
- Being Concise is Key: Alt text should be concise and descriptive. The alt text provided is going to be read aloud by screen readers and assistive technologies, so incredibly long alt text will lead to a subpar user experience. There is also no need to include "image of" or "picture of" in your alt text writing; assistive technologies will already announce that to the user.
- Identify Essential Visuals: Identify the primary visual elements crucial to understanding the image's context.
- Verbatim for Text Images: If an image contains text, the alt text should reproduce it exactly, ensuring proper spelling and grammar.
- Vital Information: If an image holds crucial data, such as event timings, include it in the alt text.
- Name Inclusion: Mention names if they're significant to the image's context.
- Avoid AI (for now): Some platforms like Facebook and Instagram champion their AI-powered alt text as a convenient alternative to crafting custom descriptions or utilizing an alt text field. Yet, such AI-powered descriptions frequently fall short in providing a detailed or contextually accurate portrayal. Entrusting AI alone for generating alt text is ill-advised; humans digest the alt text, not machines.
Image Descriptions vs. Alt Text
When diving into the world of alt text, it is important to note the difference between alt text and image descriptions. While these are two separate concepts, some social media platforms use the terms interchangeably.
While alt text provides a succinct insight into an image's content, image descriptions delve deeper, elaborating on the visual elements, such as layout, colors, fonts and intricate details.
Taking from our earlier alt text image example, here is an example of an effective image description for the same image:
Image description: “A clear blue sky filled with various hot air balloons. The balloons vary in color, including reds, oranges, yellows, blues, greens, and purples, with some displaying multiple colors in striped patterns. A few balloons are prominently in the foreground, while others appear smaller in the distance, suggesting varying heights. One distinct balloon in the upper left has bold red and white stripes. The scene conveys a sense of vastness and celebration.”
In the world of social media, alt text should take precedence. At this point in time, image descriptions are not typically supported natively on social media platforms. If you wish to go the extra mile and provide an image description in addition to alt text, this image description should be outlined in the caption or comments of the post.
The Crucial Role of Screen Readers
Both alt text and image descriptions provide a foundation for users who are blind or have low vision and depend on assistive technologies such as screen readers to navigate the web. Screen readers are software programs that convert digital text into synthesized speech. In the realm of images, screen readers detect and read an image's alt text, providing an auditory representation of visual content.
How to Add Alt Text to Photos on Major Social Platforms:
Now that we have covered the purpose of alt text, it’s time to put it into practice. Below are brief guides on how to add alt text to photos on the major social media platforms manually.
While crafting the perfect alt text might seem like a daunting task, it's more important to establish consistent efforts toward making your content accessible. Even if you're not sure how to describe every detail of an image perfectly, providing a basic description is better than offering none. This is known in the accessibility world as ‘progress over perfection.’
How to Add Alt Text on Facebook
There are no character limits for Facebook’s alt text, but as a general reference, aim to use around 300 characters.
- Step 1: Begin by creating a new post and adding an image.
- Step 2: Select "Edit Photo." Scroll down and select "Alt Text."
- Step 3: Select the option to "Override autogenerated alt text."
- Step 4: Enter the desired custom alt text and select "Save."
For more information on how to add alt text on Facebook, reference these help articles:
How to Add Alt Text on Instagram
There are no character limits for Instagram’s alt text, but as a general reference, aim to use around 300 characters.
- Step 1: Create a new post and proceed through the posting process.
- Step 2: Once on the caption and tagging screen, navigate to the bottom of the menu and select "Advanced Settings."
- Step 3: Select "Write Alt Text" and enter the desired alt text for the image.
- Step 4: Select "Done" and share the image.
For more information on how to add alt text on Instagram, reference these help articles:
How to Add Alt Text on X (Formally Known as Twitter)
X’s alt text character limit is 1,000 characters, but as a general reference, attempt to use around 300 characters.
- Step 1: Begin by uploading a picture to create a new X post.
- Step 2: After uploading an image, select "Add description" underneath the image.
- Step 3: Enter desired alt text and select "Save" to complete the post.
For more information on how to add alt text on X (Twitter), reference these help articles:
How to Add Alt Text on Pinterest
Pinterest’s alt text character limit is 500 characters, but as a general reference, attempt to use around 300 characters.
Note that currently alt text can only be added to new pins - it is not currently possible to retroactively add alt text to existing pins.
- Step 1: Select the "+" icon, navigate to "Create a Pin," and upload the image file.
- Step 2: Select "Add alt text" and enter the desired alt text.
- Step 3: Once other fields are filled out for the Pin, select "Save" to complete.
For more information on how to add alt text on Pinterest, reference these help articles:
How to Add Alt Text on LinkedIn
LinkedIn’s alt text character limit is 300 characters.
- Step 1: Begin by creating a new post and add an image.
- Step 2: Navigate to the bottom of the uploaded image, select "Alt text," and enter the desired alt text for the image.
Step 3: Select "Save" and then "Done" to complete the post.
For more information on how to add alt text on LinkedIn, reference these help articles:
As the digital space becomes increasingly visual, it's our collective responsibility to ensure inclusivity. Crafting thoughtful alt text for social media not only broadens your audience reach, but it also exemplifies a commitment to an inclusive digital experience for all.
If you’re interested in making your digital content more accessible, please reach out to our team.