Author: Melanie Mudge
We all know that good content can be the difference between a brand racing ahead of the competition or crashing and burning. We also know that when it comes to social media right now, it’s video content specifically that can quickly propel a brand forward. Yes, there’s still a time and place for other types of content, but if video isn’t part of your social media strategy, you’ll hit major roadblocks.
Yet here’s what savvy brands and content creators also understand: Accessible content—that is, content that uses several different ways of communicating information to ensure that everyone can access it—is the real accelerator.
You can invest your time, resources, and marketing budget into creating fabulous content of every type, but if large segments of your target market can’t access it, your ROI—and your brand’s reputation—is taking a huge hit.
So how do you make your social media video content accessible? Keep reading to learn step by step how to ensure all those clever TikToks and video ads that you agonized over are going the distance.
Wondering how to make your images accessible? Check out this post instead!
Making videos accessible is more involved than making images accessible simply because it involves more senses. Meaning is conveyed not just through images, but also sound, speech, words on the screen, facial expression, body language, color…the list goes on. How do we convey that meaning for people with auditory disabilities, as well as for individuals with visual or cognitive disabilities? There are several different steps to take, which are broken down below by platform.
(Note: Snapchat is not covered because it does not currently meet any accessibility requirements.)
Video descriptions make a big difference, are super easy to do, and won’t take much time. Simply use the caption to briefly describe what’s happening in the video. No need to get complicated or spend a ton of time, just think about how you would describe this to someone sitting next to you and write that down.
Tip: The caption is also a good place to add any warnings about flashing lights or other video sequences that might trigger seizures.
On the screen where you insert your caption, simply add your description to the end before any hashtags, as seen in this caption for a Reel of blind skateboarder Justin Bishop @JustinTheBishop (except don’t forget to use CamelCase in your hashtags!).
A second option for Instagram is to put your video description in a comment, pin the comment so it doesn’t get buried, and mention in your caption where to find the description.
Twitter is more difficult because of the character limit. They recommend including a link to a transcript, summary, and/or description in every video tweet. If you go with this method, the easiest way to do this is to create a Google doc with your description, then set link sharing on the document to “View Only” and include that link in your tweet.
Another method would be to include a link to an accessible version of the video, meaning one that includes closed captions, a transcript, and audio description. If you choose this method, make sure to leave room in your tweet for the link and its description, e.g. “Accessible version: [link].”
Thankfully this is starting to become standard (shoutout to everyone watching TikToks and Reels with the sound off!), but all videos with audio should have captions. Even if your video doesn’t have words, the relevant audio needs to be in caption form. This section covers tips for making your captions great, the different types of captions, and how to add them on each platform.
Before we get into the technical bits, it’s important to know the difference between good and bad captions. Not all captions are created equal, and simply adding them doesn’t necessarily make your videos accessible. They need to actually be usable, which requires keeping a few things in mind.
As our friend Meryl Evans points out, there are other rules for making captions great, but if you don’t follow these three, the rest don’t matter. Check out her article (with videos!) for a more in-depth explanation of how to make your captions as user-friendly as possible.
Though the terms all refer to written words on the screen and are often used interchangeably, each one refers to something slightly different. Subtitles convey the dialogue in a different language from the one being spoken (e.g.: Netflix’s Squid Game was recorded in Korean, but became a global phenomenon in part thanks to having subtitles in 31 other languages), whereas captions are the same language as the one being spoken.
There are three subcategories of captions: open, closed, and auto. Open captions are part of the video and can’t be turned off or removed, whereas closed captions can be turned on and off. Auto-captions are newer and are simply captions that are generated automatically by an algorithm, rather than by a human.
Reels and TikTok actually have both open and closed captions. Users can add their own text to videos as captions, and if they do, they can’t be turned off by users (see Image 1 below). There’s also the option to add auto-captions when uploading a video, which can be turned off by users in their settings or on each video, thereby making them closed captions (see image 2 below).
As you can see from the images above, Fallon Tonight chose to add both open and closed captions to their video. If you choose to add both, keep in mind where TikTok and Reels auto-captions are displayed when choosing where to place your open captions.
Though auto-captions are quick, they can often be wrong, and not everyone takes the time to edit them before they post. Thus, some platforms have opted not to use them, instead giving users the option to upload SRT files.
SRT—or SubRip Subtitle—files are simple text files that add timestamps to your captions so that they are synchronized with your video. Because they are separate text files, you have the ability to edit them before uploading, which allows you to ensure the accuracy of your captions and their timing. Check out this post from Hubspot for detailed instructions on creating and editing an SRT file.
Use the links below to follow each platform’s instructions for adding captions to your videos.
Facebook Videos for Pages (auto-captions or .SRT file)
Facebook Live Videos (auto-captions)
LinkedIn (.SRT file)
Twitter (.SRT file)
Audio description is essentially like podcasting: It conveys all pertinent information audibly instead of visually. And the bonus of doing an audio description over a transcript (see next section) is that a blind/visually impaired person gets a break from listening to Siri!
Tip: If you’ve never watched something with audio description, check out Netflix’s Audio Description section to get a feel for it.
Adding audio description to your videos can feel awkward at first, but becomes second nature the more you do it. Again, think about how you’d describe what’s happening on screen to someone sitting right next to you. The key is to describe the crucial parts of what’s happening on screen and, if possible, add it in only during pauses in activity.
Tip: If your video doesn’t have enough breaks or pauses for audio descriptions, then create a second version of your video that adds in breaks for the descriptions and simply call it the same title + “Audio Described.” Your followers will quickly become accustomed to this and only watch their preferred version.
As of this writing, you can add audio descriptions to your TikToks and Reels using Voiceover, which allows you to record narration as the video plays. Check out this guide for TikTok and this guide for Reels.
It’s not currently possible to natively add audio descriptions on LinkedIn, Twitter, or regular Facebook videos. You’ll need to utilize third-party software to do this before uploading to any of these platforms.
Transcripts are another way to make a video accessible to someone with visual impairments. If they prefer not to listen to audio description, they can download the transcript and listen to it via a screen reader or read it on a refreshable braille display. For everything except TikTok and Instagram, this means simply adding a link to a PDF or Google doc into the text of your post/tweet.
For Instagram and TikTok, because they don’t not allow clickable links in captions, comments, or stories (story links are available if you have 10,000+ followers), you’ll have to use the link in your bio/profile. (Note: On TikTok, this option is only available for business accounts.) Make sure you mention in your captions where to find the transcript as well.
Tip: This works best when you utilize a tool like LinkTree. Simply add a link to each transcript to your LinkTree every time you upload a new video.
We suspect that the main reason more people don’t already make their social media videos accessible is because of a lack of awareness, and that those who are aware of web accessibility don’t do it because of the extra time investment. That’s a valid concern because it does take more time than not making them accessible (especially since social media companies have been reluctant to build accessibility into their platforms). But we also suspect that it’s a “missing the forest for the trees” kind of situation—that is, the con of time overshadows all the pros. So let’s break it down.
Cons of Making Videos Accessible
Pros of Making Videos Accessible
The moral of the story is: The only thing you have to lose is time, and you have everything to gain by making your social media videos accessible. Time to get to work!