Icons and characters are an integral part of social media, and content creators are always finding new and creative ways to use them. Here you'll find some basic best practices for icons and characters to help you create content that is creative, engaging, and accessible. Use the below buttons to navigate to the different sections on the page.
Almost everyone has a favorite emoji, but did you know that each individual emoji has its own description assigned to it?
Every description is unique and some are very specific depending on the emoji. Many descriptions even vary depending on the platform or device you're viewing the emoji on. For example, this 🏚 emoji is known as abandoned house, old house, haunted house, and derelict house.
When someone uses a screen reader or text-to-speech program to consume digital content and comes across an emoji, they will hear the assigned description for that icon. That's why it's important to be smart and strategic about how you use emoji in your social media content.
Emojis should be used as sparingly as possible in written content to avoid their meta descriptions confusing the overall message of your post or tweet when it's read aloud by a screen reader.
It's best to put emojis at the very end of your posts and tweets, and avoid using them as bullet points. The more important information should be accessed by the user before the emoji meta descriptions to ensure your message is clear.
Resist changing the color on emojis with variable skin tones if you manage social media for a brand. Every unique icon gets descriptor information, which is then read aloud by assistive devices or program. This includes skin tones.
For convenience, assistive technology will sometimes truncate a line of emojis if only one specific icon is used consecutively. For instance, the last line of this paragraph would be read as "10 rockets" instead of saying the word rocket 10 times.
A great resource if you want to use emoji in smart and strategic ways is emojipedia.org. This website lists every known emoji along with their different appearances and descriptions across platforms and devices. It will also announce upcoming emoji updates.
Don’t place emojis in your Twitter name (different from your Twitter @ handle), as it’s typically read every time an assistive device transcribes a tweet to a user. The meta description of emojis can make your Twitter name much longer (and more confusing) than intended.
A more recent trend with content creators is to use custom Unicode characters from external sites to make the copy on social media platforms appear in different styles, weights, and typefaces. In the example to the left, the portion of the caption that reads Rich Nude Obsessions looks like it's in a different typeface than the rest of the copy because a custom Unicode character set was used.
While this trend does add a unique aesthetic flair to your content, it also slows down the content creation process because it requires an external site. More importantly, it's not an accessible practice. Not all screen readers can identify and translate the custom Unicode characters and will skip right over them instead. Even worse are the Unicode character sets that are translated into indistinguishable noises by screen readers. See the below image for several examples of custom Unicode character sets.
All social media users should stick to the default fonts and formatting used on the platforms and not use custom Unicode characters from external websites for any aspect of their social media.
ASCII art is a design technique that uses characters from the American Standard Code for Information Interchange—more commonly known as ASCII—to create illustrative pictures. It’s been around for decades and is often seen trending on social media in the form of topical memes.
Unfortunately, ASCII art is not accessible for screen readers and content creators are advised not to use it if they want to keep their social media inclusive. Assistive technology is programmed to read the ASCII characters separately—as they were originally intended— and not as a larger picture. ASCII art usually results in a confusing reading by a screen reader that makes no discernible sense and can also be excessively long, as shown in the below video.
There's an easy way to use ASCII art in your content and keep it accessible. All you have to do is screenshot the ASCII art you'd like to use, upload that screenshot to your post or tweet as an image, and add alt text to it before publishing.