Alternative text (alt text) is used to describe non-textual elements, like photos, icons, and data visualizations. Just like images on websites, including alt text for social media images is important to make your social media posts accessible for people with disabilities and in low-bandwidth environments. Alt text will provide context when an image is missing, and accessibility tools will convey the text to audio.
Remember, social media isn’t just about brand-building—these messages matter. From our work with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), where every healthcare message counts, we’ve pulled together a quick primer on how to create meaningful alt text in social media, along with a few examples.
Write Descriptively and Succinctly
Alt text should describe an image in enough detail to paint a mental picture of what’s represented in the photo without overwhelming people with unimportant information. When writing alt text, ask yourself two questions:
- What information are you trying to convey with the image?
- How can you best explain that information?
Alt text should not repeat information that is available nearby. Don’t duplicate text already included in the post—a screen reader will read that text as well, resulting in repetitive information.
However, when text is included as part of the image, as in a chart or infographic, remember that image-based text isn’t readable. You’ll want to include the message as alt text.
When writing alt text, you don’t need to describe purely decorative elements, like borders or background colors, unless these aspects contribute to the message you are trying to convey. Write succinctly—aim for alt text less than 250 characters.
Don’t Include Phrases like “Image of” or “Picture of”
Screen readers announce an image with the word “graphic” or “image” so including a similar word in your alt text is redundant. There is one caveat: if you feel a word provides important, contextual information, then it’s ok to include. Common examples are “logo,” “illustration,” and “chart.”
Screen readers pause for periods, semi-colons, commas, question marks, and exclamation points. However, a screen reader may skip punctuation depending on the speed setting. Be sure the meaning of your alt text isn’t altered by lack of punctuation.
Read about Each Platform’s Accessibility Features and Recommendations
Each social media platform may handle accessibility considerations differently and most offer tips on how to get the most out of their platform. For example, when posting via mobile, LinkedIn does not allow you to edit or add alt text to your images. LinkedIn and Facebook may also auto-generate alt text that you have to override.
Learn more about how to add alt text to social media platforms:
Be Cautious of Emoji Descriptions
Screen readers will read an emoji’s alt text description, so when writing the text for a social media post it is important to be aware of how a selected emoji’s description will sound when a post is read aloud by a screen reader. People interpret emojis differently, so you can’t always rely on people walking away with an understanding that aligns with your intended communication. When considering emojis in your social media post copy, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Don’t include the same emoji more than once.
- Include important information before an emoji so it is more likely to be understood.
- Don’t use emojis to replace words—this could lead to a misinterpretation of your message.
It’s important to note that emoji alt text is automated and cannot be changed. Use this chart to find out what the alt text will be for an emoji.
Alt Text Examples
Alt Text: An illustration of healthcare providers. Text:ACT NOW: Submit your PRF Reporting Period 1 late reporting request by April 22, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Alt Text: Two sets of hands form the shape of a heart on the abdomen of a pregnant woman. Text:HHS Awards $16 Million to Strengthen the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. HRSA logo.
Alt text: Two community health workers wearing personal protective equipment distribute COVID test kits to an older man.
Alt text: Illustrations of medical services. Text: HRSA-funded health centers make a difference in people’s lives. Find a health center near you. Health centers serve 1 in 11 people nationwide. Nearly 1,400 health centers with 13,500+ service sites. Nearly 29 million people served in 2020. FindAHealthCenter.hrsa.gov. HRSA logo.