Repost from IBM Social Business Insights: Making Social Media More Accessible

Earlier this year I started blogging for the IBM Social Business Insights blog as part of a team of IBM Redbook Thought Leaders. I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog. 
Making Social Media More Accessible was originally published on March 7, 2012, and is owned by IBM.
I recommend checking out the IBM Social Business Insights blog for some compelling and though-provoking content.

Making social media more accessible

True or False: Today’s mainstream social media channels are accessible to all.

Before you answer that question, let’s take a look at the current state of the social media space.

Social media channels enable social networking, a phenomenon fueled largely by user-generated content and the various ways users can connect and share that content. Recent usage numbers for the top five social media channels are incredible:
  • Facebook has 850 million users; 483 million of those are daily active users.(1)
  • YouTube has more than 3 billion views per day; 48 hours of video is uploaded every minute.(2)
  • Twitter is just as busy: more than 200 million accounts, more than 100 million active users, 50 percent of whom log in daily, tweeting 350 million times a day.(3)
  • LinkedIn has 135 million members in more than 200 countries and territories; new members are joining at a rate of faster than two new members a second.(4)
  • Google+, as of January 2012, has over 90 million users.(5)
  • The newest up and comer, Pinterest, set a new record at the beginning of February 2012 of 10 million US monthly unique users.(6)
No single company could fill the content pipeline of one of these channels, much less for all of them concurrently, as is happening right now. But when we look at the accessibility of these channels, we start to see that not everyone can equally participate in these social exchanges.
An older blog post by Nilofar Ansher from G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, poses three questions that can help a social media company assess the accessibility of its site:
  • Can everyone publish their own content without barriers?
  • Does the publishing platform support the creation of accessible content? (More specifically, does the publishing process require accessibility artifacts? For example, does it ask for alternative text for images?)
  • Is that content then presented to the user in an accessible way?
  • If you (or your developers) can’t answer “yes” to all three questions about your social media platform or channel, then it’s a safe bet that some people are excluded from participating.
Denis Boudreau, president of AccessibilitéWeb, a Montreal-based accessibility cooperative, put together a thorough presentation in fall 2011 that evaluated the accessibility of the five main social media platforms (Pinterest is not included). He evaluated the platforms on the eight most common accessibility problems:
  • Section headings
  • Color contrasts
  • Labels and form fields
  • Keyboard navigation
  • Text equivalents for images
  • Multimedia
  • Language
  • Validation
His findings? All five platforms failed. LinkedIn did the best, at 29 percent.
Because these platforms are available at no cost to users and participation is optional, there isn’t the pressure from paying customers or government regulations to make them accessible and inclusive – yet. Both the changing technology-related legislation worldwide that is incorporating accessibility requirements and the consumers who are becoming more vocal about access will ultimately put pressure on these social channels to become fully accessible.

Workarounds, fortunately, do exist and there appears to be some movement toward accessibility. EasyChirp is an accessible Twitter client that has received good reviews. AppleVis, a community-driven website created to collect information on the accessibility of apps developed for Apple's iOS devices, includes a free, accessible LinkedIn app. And, blind colleagues report improvements in the Facebook mobile client over the last year (you must be logged in to Facebook to access).

As a social media practitioner, I find it unfortunate that we’re not building relationships with all of our clients, prospects, and partners within social media channels because of the lack of inclusivity. Using social platforms that are accessible, such as IBM Connections, is a huge step forward in becoming an Inclusive Social Business, but until the mainstream social media channels are accessible, the ideas and insights of millions of people worldwide are not being fully shared. Neither are they fully engaged as customers in the business model of the channel, resulting in potential revenue remaining on the table.

The answer to true or false question posed at the beginning of this post? False, for now. With increasing focus on the need to make these channels more accessible, let’s hope in a year these platforms will be more inclusive.
1 Facebook Fact Sheet
2 YouTube Press Room
3 Social Media Marketing Library
4 LinkedIn Facts
5 Google Plus News
6 Pinterest Hits10 Million U.S. Monthly Uniques Faster Than Any Standalone Site Ever