For many businesses, especially B2C brands, it is tempting to embrace the latest memes and social media trends.
A low cost way of engaging with your online audience, particularly younger audiences, memes and trends can lead to increased engagement on your social media platforms. However, while this content can be a quick and easy way to build a community and position your brand as fun and relevant, the often visual nature of memes and trends can also exclude audiences with different needs if accessibility is not considered.
What is a meme?
Memes are amusing images, videos and gifs, often with captions that can be edited, that are spread widely on social media. Some text and emoji based social media trends are also referred to as memes.
Primarily, memes are images and therefore can easily be made accessible for a wider audience by adding alt text. Alternative text is useful for blind people and those with low vision who use screen readers, those with cognitive needs or neurodiversity who may not interpret sarcasm or jokes immediately and can even help in situations where users have poor internet connection and trouble loading images.
If using memes, businesses can add alt text that describes the meme template that has been used and the customised, humorous captions that have been added. You don’t need to describe every single detail of the image but enough information that accurately describes the meme and the message it conveys.
When a meme goes wrong
Earlier this year brands including McDonald’s and Red Bull Gaming, and even organisations like the Paris 2024 Olympics, jumped on a new meme on Twitter. The meme featured black text saying ‘Click here’ on a white background with an arrow pointing towards the alt text label. When people clicked the alt text label, instead of a description of the image, it contained a joke or punchline relating to the brand or its products.
This meme excluded people who are blind and visually impaired as they didn’t know that the alt text did not correspond to the original image and the abuse of the alt text function was rightly called out by AbilityNet, the RNIB and Specsavers.
What about emojis?
Text based memes and trends such as clapping hands between every word or the red flag meme use emojis to emphasise or illustrate their message. However, assistive technologies like screen readers will read out the emoji’s description each time it is used, whether it is separating words (clapping hands) or following a statement (red flags – the description of which is ‘triangular flag on post’, eliminating the colour and meaning of the meme).
Businesses wanting to utilise the latest text based trend should check the descriptions of emojis before using them and use them sparingly!
Should businesses embrace memes and trends?
Memes and trends can be fun, engaging forms of content for businesses to integrate into their digital marketing plans but careful consideration should be taken before posting. Where possible, businesses should act to make their content accessible to open up their content to everyone. From Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) to Tiktok, social media platforms have a range of accessibility features to enable businesses to do just that.
Effective Communication is a PR and digital marketing agency based in south Wales and the south west of England. At Effective, we help businesses manage their digital media through many ways, including: