19th Feb 2021
Social media is pretty much a standard part of most businesses’ online marketing by now but users’ experience of it is far from standardised. This could be due to the content itself, how it's posted, or both. For people who have disabilities it may be difficult to access social media in many ways, which at best could be frustrating and at worst be a complete barrier.
With some forward planning and a few adjustments to the way we prepare and post, we could be providing a whole different and much more inclusive experience to many users.
This is a whistle-stop tour to highlight the different aspects of our social media posts we could (should) be making more accessible and inclusive. I'll say right now that we are learning too and will be implementing these things in our posts going forward.
At the end of this article I've added links to some really great guides and deeper information by the experts in this subject. There's a video from AbilityNet, which is very much worth a watch too.
Images are a big deal in our social media, especially in Instagram where it’s all about that engaging picture. For visitors who cannot see images, a useful and concise description is needed in the form of ‘Alt Text’.
Facebook creates automatically generated alt text, which you will need to check and edit, for Instagram and Twitter you can add alt text:
Editing alt text in Facebook
Adding alt text in Twitter
Adding alt text in Instagram
In some instances, alt text may not be sufficient to describe your image, especially if your image includes text (more about that below). In these situations you could add an image description into your post text or link through to the full information on your website.
For podcasts or audio-only content, a transcript should be included. If this isn’t possible within the post itself then you could provide a link to the full transcript wherever it is available online.
Subtitles vs Captions?
Subtitles covey only the dialogue in the video and captions convey all of the essential audio (e.g. sound effects, music etc as well as dialogue). So you need to decide which will be most useful for the video you’re publishing.
An audio description is useful for videos where visual content conveys meaning or information. However, you may be able to plan your video in advance so they’re not needed.
The W3C provide clarification on audio descriptions, when to use them and how to add them
Custom fonts, which aren't included as standard on the social media platform can be difficult to read, due to the letter forms. Additionally, on social media custom fonts are are ignored by text readers and assistive technology. Using the fonts as provided means a better user experience and reduces the risk of your content not being read at all.
Text in images
If possible it's always best to avoid using text in images at all. However, it is a great way to make an impact, especially on Instagram. When using text in images, it is important to use a legible font that won't become illegible when zoomed to a much larger size. Also choose a simple or sans-serif font, where individual characters are easily distinguished. And importantly, ensure that the font colour and background colour contrast well so that the text is clear and strong. WebAim provide a very useful colour contrast checker which helps you easily choose highly contrasting colour combinations.
We can get a little carried away with hashtags sometimes, trying to hit as many key tags as possible. However, we need to take care about how we use them. Camel caps not only make hashtags much more legible but also allows text readers to distinguish individual words within the tag. To demonstrate camel case vs non-camel case, see the following:
Disability Rights Fund also advise putting hashtags in comments, separate from the post text. However others suggest hashtags within the post are OK if used in context within the sentence.
How we love an emoji to bring personality to our posts! However, for some people emojis can make the caption too ‘busy’ and difficult to read. They can also problems for those using text readers if used excessively and in the middle of sentences. This is because the text readers announce the name of the emoji and as you can imagine may make a post seem nonsensical. AbilityNet provide a brilliant example of this in their example video of emojis being read aloud (at 11:33).
This is a huge topic in itself and not as clear cut as making technical adjustments. However, two important things to be aware of are:
Here are some very useful resources which provide much more detail:
WebAim - People with Disabilities on the Web
Ability Net - How to Do Accessible Social Media (webinar and Q&As)
UK Government Communication Service - Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns
Disability Rights Fund - Creating Accessible Social Media for Those With DeafBlindness
Hootsuite - Inclusive Design for Social Media
Emojipedia - See all of the different names of emojis
Self-Defined - A dictionary of words which may be not be inclusive
Stroke Association - Accessible Information Guidelines (Making information accessible for people with aphasia)
30th Oct 2020
Website owners and content creators are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of our digital lives. But what about the social impact? It’s not always about what you’re saying online that has implications, how you say it matters too. The reason for this is because not all web users have the same access to online information and resources. Low connection speeds, limited data allowances and disability can mean that some people are excluded from certain content. It is important to know if your content is helping or hindering.
Slow-loading websites which have not been optimised for efficiency and contain unnecessarily large photos, videos and files can cause problems for website visitors with low connection speeds and limited data. Working through all of those heavy web pages uses up data allowances and some visitors may run out of time or resources before they reach what they really need.
Accessibility and inclusion online are vital for disabled people. Some websites and website content can cause real problems for disabled website users and the assistive technology they might employ whilst online. It is now a legal requirement in the UK for public sector websites to be built and managed in a way that is accessible for disabled users. We have been building websites this way for many years (because why wait for the law to tell you not to discriminate?) and much of what is involved is technical. However, there are ways to manage and publish your website content that makes sure it is accessible to disabled people.
Be mindful of the things we post online. Take some time to learn about what it means to optimise your website and what makes it accessible or inaccessible to disabled people. There may be things that only your web designer can address but there are certainly ways in which you can manage other aspects, especially your content:
These are just a few examples of things all content creators, publishers and managers can do to support digital inclusion. Optimising a photograph may seem like a small thing to do, but like all actions of individuals, collectively they can make a huge difference. The best thing about these changes is that not only do they have social benefits but they have environmental ones too and they improve your SEO! Search engines much prefer quicker, well optimised, well structured websites. It’s a win-win situation all round.
There are wider and more complex details in the design and development of websites but these are for your web designer to address.
Below are some useful resources if you’d like to read up on these topics further:
8th Jan 2020
Awareness of sustainable lifestyle choices has thankfully now become part of the mainstream. We are extremely conscious of plastic pollution, unsustainable palm oil, switching to meat free meals and buying from zero waste shops. We take a lot of time to think about how choices and actions in our physical lives affect the planet and life upon it.
But what about our online lives? How often do we hear conversations or read articles in the mainstream about the pollution and waste created by the Internet? Not that often I would say. When I talk to people about the negative environmental effect the Internet has, they are often initially surprised that they haven’t considered this before. Consuming and posting content online is such a big part of our every day lives, how have we omitted to think of the power and resources needed to maintain it?
Probably because to us it’s invisible and intangible. It just works. We don’t see the energy required to power, maintain and cool the servers that store, process and deliver every single item of content that is posted online, or the 8 million global datacentres that house those servers.
Currently there are over 4 billion of us using the internet and according to We Are Social & Hootsuite there are on average more than a million new users coming online every day. Our internet use is consuming 3% of the world’s electricity supply and in 2015 totalled more than the whole of the UK’s consumption that year. This is continually growing at an extremely fast rate and experts predict that by 2030 the energy supply in Japan will be completely consumed by data centres.
That massive energy use doesn’t come without an environmental cost. Most data centres are powered by fossil fuel energy sources which means that the global carbon emissions of the world’s data centres now equal that of the aviation industry. The Shift Project also tell us that video watching alone (the hungriest of all online media) generated the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as that produced by the whole of Spain in 2018.
In a world where we are trying hard to reduce our environmental impact in most areas our online lives seem to be going in the opposite direction.
According to Greenpeace there is much work to be done but there are some positives too. Since 2010 when they began documenting and reporting the demand for energy and resulting pollution caused by data centres some major internet companies have expressed their commitment to moving to 100% renewables. This has had the knock-on effect of utility companies in the US switching to renewables to meet customer demands and attract new investors.
So, how about your own website? You can make sure that is powered by renewable energy too by using Green Hosting. Switching to a hosting company that powers its servers and data centres with renewables means you are not only helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by our online lives but you are also telling utility and data centre companies that Internet users want more clean energy. This is a great way to exercise your consumer power!
Our green website hosting is powered 100% by renewable energy, all year round. The Centro data centre, which houses our hosting servers, runs entirely on wind generated electricity from UK on-shore and off-shore wind farms. Because the energy is supplied via the grid, the power does not stop if the wind isn’t blowing, nor does it need to fall back on fossil fuels. It remains as reliable as ever and as green as always.
Centro data centre isn’t wasteful with that green energy either and has in fact achieved a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of 1.2, which is a very high efficiency rating. This is because it has been designed and built to use electricity as efficiently as possible. By extracting hot air from the building and using naturally cold outside air through the water-based chillers, the cooling systems do not need to be constantly at full power as they would in traditional data centres.
Our Green Hosting service provides all of the same, usual features you would expect from other hosting companies. So, if your website is hosted elsewhere we can help you switch to Green Hosting with minimal disruption.
“I'm really impressed with the service I received from Green Hosting. I was nervous about moving my site over in case anything got lost or broken but they guided me through the whole process, answered all my questions in plain English and kept me updated at every stage. They handled the whole switch over for me and it went smoothly. Not only have they made my site more sustainable but it's actually much faster now too!”
You can find out more about our Green Hosting service and see more lovely client comments at green-hosting.co.uk
What else can we do to make our online lives more sustainable?
There are other ways we can live more sustainably online, both via our own websites and elsewhere. We wrote an article about this for Zero Waste Week 2019, so do check it out.
There are lots of useful resources on this topic, some of which I used to gather the figures on internet use, data consumption and carbon emissions shown above. If you’d like to delve deeper here are the links:
We Are Social – Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates
Data Center Knowledge - The Data Center Dilemma: Is Our Data Destroying the Environment?
Information Age - A perfect storm: the environmental impact of data centres
Impakter - Hungry for Data, Starving the World
The Shift Project – The Unsustainable Use of Online Video
Greenpeace – Click Clean Report
Greenpeace – Clicking Clean Virginia
1st Sep 2019
Do you remember back in the day when we would add a note in our e-mail signatures saying something like “Please consider the environment. Do not print this e-mail unless necessary”?
Many of us were in a new phase of working where paper was the bad guy and digital was the environmentally friendly alternative. It was easy to think of e-mails as an intangible thing, magically leaving your mailbox and arriving in your recipients’ a few seconds later without so much of a tiny tiptoe, never mind a great big stomping dirty carbon footprint.
Fast forward 10 to 15 years later and the world is very different. E-mails are now one tiny aspect of our extensive online professional and personal lives. I would dare to guess that most people reading this have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts. We stream movies and tv series, listen to music, podcasts, radio and we play games. We buy books, holidays, gifts and other fun things. It’s such a joy! We conduct much of our work online whether through our own websites or third-party platforms; writing articles, creating promotional videos, making sales, communicating, learning, buying from suppliers, managing our admin. It makes life so much more convenient and is a vital marketing tool. Entrepreneurs may have separate business accounts from their private ones for various digital services and our online activities are split into the data we consume and the data we create.
If you take a moment to make a mental list of all of your day-to-day online tasks and pastimes, you’ll probably be surprised by how many there are and how they are continually growing. These activities are such an impalpable, integral part of our lives, seemingly residing in our devices and office computers that barely take up any of our own space or energy. But that isn’t the full picture…
The thing is, e-mails are not an intangible thing nor are any of the other multitude of online activities I’ve listed (and not listed) above. Every click, every published word, picture, video, sound and transaction uses energy and resources and creates waste. The abstract internet isn’t abstract at all. The digital equates to the physical and in very significant ways and amounts. It translates to electricity and gas consumed, materials sourced, hardware manufactured and transported, structures built and land taken. All of the data we consume and create is stored in millions, yes millions of data centres around the world which house, process and serve up every single thing we say and do online. These data centres accommodate the web servers which are connected to the internet 24/7, they need to be kept secure, maintained, cooled and of course powered constantly. Their physical size varies between 5,000 and 500,000 square feet. The whole thing is absolutely gargantuan and it is growing at an incredible rate.
There are many more articles and studies online if you would like to delve deeper into this topic (I have added a list of resources at the end of this article). However, it doesn’t take long too see that our ever-increasing use and creation of online data is causing a problem that isn’t going to go away.
Many of us are already on the path of living a more sustainable lifestyle and thankfully this is becoming more mainstream too. We switch off our electrical goods when not in use, look for low energy appliances and light bulbs, we’re cutting down on single use plastic and worry about the damage of palm oil production, fast fashion and the meat industry. Slowly a wave of less consumption and lower waste is happening in many areas of our lives except in the world of online data, where exactly the opposite is taking place.
We need to apply the same level of responsibility in our digital lives as we do our physical ones. We wouldn’t dream of polluting the air by driving to each of our friend’s houses to tell them about the local veg we’d eaten for dinner or waste paper and ink printing off unnecessarily large photos of our shop products. But we do squander the resources we have to communicate online.
I don’t need to write a list of things that you can do instead of binge-watching your favourite box-set or scrolling through your Instagram feed. We all know that there’s life out there away from the Internet, let’s just go and live it (I’m saying this to myself too by the way).
I can, however, provide some useful ways to work more efficiently online, especially with the content and data you publish on your own website and elsewhere:
Please consider the environment. Do not post this unless you really need to.
Where we conduct so much of our business marketing and valuable (dare I say essential) networking online it is tempting to feel like we continuously need to post something (anything) on our social media business accounts so that we aren’t forgotten. Don’t give in to that temptation and work on curating useful, informative posts less often instead. The quality over quantity principle really applies here.
To video or not to video
Video is the biggest offender when it comes to online resource use as it accounts for 80% of the world’s data traffic. So, although video is an amazing medium for communicating with your audience, use it wisely and only when you will get the best results from it rather than just as your default choice. The Shift Project provides a guide on how to reduce the digital size of your videos, so if you do choose to publish a video, make sure it is as small (in file size) as it can be. *
Sort out those images
You know those times when you visit a website and the page appears with the images missing initially, then the pictures jerkily load into the page? This is when the images used are way too big. It may appear the correct size on the page but only its dimensions have been reduced and the original file size is much larger. This is a common wasteful practice and these huge photos can do your website more harm than good. Re-size your digital images before you add them to your website. Even with large, high res screens it is unlikely that you will ever need to use a photo that is 5000 pixels wide, straight from your digital camera.
Clear out your WordPress Plugins
If you’re a WordPress user, it is likely that you have installed a number of plugins to perform specific tasks on your website (e.g. SEO tools, e-commerce, events calendar etc). These plugins are a fantastic thing for non-web developers because they take a lot of work out of adding a new feature. However, these plugins can be heavy on resources because they perform several functions (you may not be utilising all of them) and when your website is visited, every plugin is loaded, even the ones that are not currently in use. This is wasteful but also potentially dangerous. Plugins that are left idle and not kept up to date cause vulnerabilities in your website, which can be exploited by hackers. Be choosy about the plugins you use and delete the ones you don’t need.
Responsible website ownership
Old and poorly optimised websites are slower, less efficient and use more resources. They provide an inferior experience for your visitors and are damaging to the environment. This is one of the more technical aspects of being a website owner and it is advisable to seek professional support and advice to address this.
Keep that mailbox tidy
If left unchecked your mailbox can become a dumping ground for every e-mail you have ever sent and received. Redundant E-mails stored in your web hosting account are taking up server space, like a digital landfill. Delete old e-mails that you’re sure you no longer need, especially those with attachments and newsletters with images. Do this both in your inbox and sent items. If you’re worried about deleting e-mails that you may want to access later then download them and create an archive. Be sensible though, back ups are still worth taking to make sure you don't lose anything vital.
Wind powered website hosting
Carbon emissions are a waste product of burning fossil fuels. Currently greenhouse gases created by web hosting servers and cloud computing powered by non-renewable resources is equivalent to that of the aviation industry. Don’t contribute to this pollution, choose website hosting powered by renewable energy, like our Green Hosting. Our Centro datacentre in London, which houses the hosting servers, routers and cooling systems runs entirely on wind generated electricity from UK wind farms and employs energy efficient design principles meaning it uses less energy as a whole.
As is often the case, there are other advantageous outcomes of running a more environmentally friendly, low waste website; Its efficiency will be improved and in turn so will your SEO, It will be more accessible to a wider audience, especially those with slower connections and it will be more secure. Reducing the chances of your website or e-mails becoming vulnerable to hackers or phishing attempts will save you time, money and credibility – everyone benefits.
If you would like to know more about our wind powered website hosting service or how we can help your website run more efficiently then do get in touch.
* The Shift Project video guide - This is not a recommendation and we cannot be responsible for any use of this guide.
Data Center Knowledge - State of the Data Center Industry, 2018 – Where We are and What to Expect
The Shift Project - “Lean ICT: Towards digital sobriety”: Our new report on the environmental impact of ICT
Greenpeace - Click Clean Report 2017
Data Economy - Data centres of the world will consume 1/5 of Earth’s power by 2025
Nature - How to stop data centres from gobbling up the world’s electricity
The Guardian - Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet
28th Feb 2019
Of course, we spend most of our time talking about Green Hosting here, which makes sense I guess. But I thought it would be good to share the other ways we aim to help make a positive difference with our Green Hosting business too. Here are some of the things we do...
In our early days when we first set up back in 2004, the ethical business world was much smaller than it is now. However, we always knew that we only wanted to make money from clients who are doing positive things. Our ethical policy guides us and communicates the kinds of activities we do and do not support via our web services. The ethical policy still stands more than 14 years later and is still fundamental to our way of working. We just don’t want to make money from exploitative, cruel or careless companies and we’re sure our clients don’t want us to either.
We are extremely fortunate now to have many like-minded colleagues and a community of conscious brands around us, sharing good practice, supporting each other and working to make ethical business stronger and more mainstream.
Choosing responsible suppliers is important to us too. We bank with the Cooperative, use Ecotricity to power our office and the Green Stationery Company for any supplies we need. More recently we took out business insurance with Evergreen Insurance and this was new to us last year, which shows we're on a constant learning curve. For our IT equipment we choose energy efficient products and purchase from companies with ethical credentials when we can. All electrical equipment and lights are switched off when we aren't using them. Even though our electricity is from renewable sources, there's no need to waste it.
In the day-to-day running of our business travel is kept to a minimum and so is paper use, we just don't really need either of those things to provide our service. Sometimes its handy to write things down and so if we have notepads or notebooks they are made from scrap or recycled paper. The pens we buy are made from recycled materials too.
Most of our marketing is done online but if we need printed materials we choose a printer with environmentally friendly practices and products. We haven't had anything printed in a while but we recently discovered Hatch and so we might try them next time we do.
We have an environmental policy which goes into lots more detail if you'd like to read more.
We know that the technicalities of websites and web hosting can be daunting, especially when a business relies so heavily on their online presence and e-mails. So we aim to be kind in our approach and communication. Our clients reciprocate that kindness in lovely feedback, messages of support and spreading the word about us. It makes us feel really good!
With a view to hopefully making a difference in a more direct way, we work with community groups and positive projects that make us smile, providing services for free. Most recently we built the new Greens Windmill website, update it as volunteers and we power it with our wind powered hosting too. It gives us a real buzz to be able to do this and to get to know some really fantastic people and organisations.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Everything we do in our business reflects how we live our lives outside work. Like lots of other people we're increasingly more conscious and careful about what we eat, what we wear wear and what we buy (or rather don't buy). We're cutting down our plastic use, composting kitchen waste, planting flowers for pollinators and growing veggies, supporting charities, shopping locally, buying second hand, raising our awareness. We're a small business trying to do our best, we're know we're not perfect but we're always learning and working to do more.
Since we started out in 2004 our values of wanting to make a difference haven’t changed, but thankfully the business world around us has. It’s so wonderful to now be part of a much bigger movement of brands driven by the triple bottom line - people, planet and profit – and we’re excited by how much of a difference we can all make in the future.