Trains and transparency: how rail companies handle social media

There are three universal things expected from train companies:

  • trains should arrive on time
  • the journey must be safe
  • clients should be kept informed

Although, it sounds like the easiest thing to achieve, that last one can be a struggle for companies running thousands of trains every day. Trains are constantly subjected to a diverse range of incidents that can potentially cause traffic disruptions. As a result, train companies are expected to communicate quickly and regularly with their travellers.

For that reason, social media appears as the ideal tool. Not only does it enable train companies to warn travellers of occurring disruptions, it also gives them the opportunity to inform people on the reasons why those disruptions occurred.

Here are some good examples of how train companies across Europe have made the most of their social media channels to inform, communicate, and engage with their audience.

1) Network Rail Kent and Sussex: The power of threads

Network Rail Kent and Sussex have started using threads on their Twitter feed to inform customers about latest disruptions and the reasons behind them.

Every once in a while, their Twitter feed becomes a real “Railway Network 101” that looks back on a disruption and details what caused it. Network Rail use these threads to be transparent and to take the time to explain how delays can keep everyone safe.

Sharing that information might not help reassure the people who got to work late, but it is a great way to educate on technical topics usually not known by the public.

2) London Northwestern Railway: Transparency. Every day.

Running thousands of trains every day requires clear and regular communication with customers. Often criticised for their inability to share up-to-date information when incidents happen, London Northwestern Railway decided to demonstrate the contrary by opting for complete transparency on traffic statistics. They also launched a dedicated webpage keeping track of their performance.

Deciding to make bad performance public is risky, but it helps to create the image of a transparent company working on its flaws. Travellers affected won’t necessarily be happy about those numbers, but the effort to be transparent can be appreciated. On top of that, if technical performances are visible throughout the months, it will be available for everyone to see. In the long run, it could constitute an opportunity to advertise improvements.

3) SNCB: Using visuals for clearer information.

When faced with incidents on the tracks, the Belgian national train company SNCB effectively deploys visuals.

Their graphics are built upon three simple ingredients: the cause, a current update, and solutions for customers. They also use maps to make it easier for travellers to have a better understanding of the situation. Other companies have opted for pictures to tone down incidents getting important media coverage. In 2018, the French SNCF released on its Twitter feed a picture of a derailed high-speed train in Marseille. The picture of a train not at-all damaged and still upright contradicts the representation people might have of a derailment. It helped to avoid dramatic media coverage of the event.

4) SNCF: Employee advocacy

Since 2017, SNCF has deployed an employee advocacy program on social media under the hashtag #TeamSNCF. The hashtag brings together a real community of train drivers and employees sharing their everyday lives and the hidden side of their jobs on social media.

Members of the team have shared explanatory threads on common but not clearly understood incidents such as snowfall or on anecdotes unknown to the public. These threads are great, not only because they come directly from people on the ground but also because they are shared by real people, who are authentic and distinct from the company’s official account. Employees who post about their daily life on social media can often act as trusted voices for an organisation.

5) BVG: Humour and self-mockery.

Last but not least, the Berlin transport company BVG released a video full of self-mockery to apply for UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. It has been shared on social media and has seen great success. Accepting one’s own flaws proves openness and a certain sense of modernity. And it’s clearly working!

Helpful Links: December

For our December Helpful Links we’ve collated reviews of 2019 and articles looking ahead to 2020, both from the major social media channels and other digital sources. We hope they inspire you to try something new in 2020. 

The best of 2019 and the 2010s

These were the most downloaded apps of the 2010s. The top four are all from Facebook

TikTok is already the 7th most downloaded app of the 2010s! If that’s made you think you need to know more about it, here are the top 100 posts from this year.  

CNN have taken a look at how social media has evolved over the last decade. 

YouTube Rewindthe creators, music and moments that mattered most on YouTube in 2019.

This article rounds up the Pinterest 2019 Award winners – the best-in-class content from UK brands, publishers and influencers.

The best LinkedIn page of 2019 was Teleperformance. Find out why and more about the Top 10 pages in this LinkedIn article. 

Two of the year’s big sporting events were also top of Google’s most searched-for phrases in 2019. Here’s the full run down.  

Dove, Apple and Nike feature in PR Newswire’s five top social media campaigns from 2019

Sprout Social have highlighted some great campaigns, including low budget ones, in their stand-out social media marketing examples from 2019.

Brandwatch has identified the 50 most influential people on Twitter in 2019.  Many of them won’t be accounts you’d be likely to interact with. So why not make your own Twitter lists of influential accounts that could help you in your work?  

Hopefully some of that content will have given you ideas for your campaigns in 2020. We’ve also found these helpful links looking ahead to 2020.


2020 tips and ideas

Twitter have created a downloadable planning calendar for 2020 with different versions available for different geographical regions. 

Facebook have shared their insights into which topics are taking hold in conversations across the platform and are on the cusp of going mainstream in the year ahead.

Later have put together their biggest Instagram trends to watch for in 2020 and beyond

Econsultancy have asked a range of experts for their predictions for social media in 2020. Unsurprisingly, many relate to TikTok.


We’ll continue to round up a series of links that we find interesting each month in 2020 – look out for them! If you’re keen to push yourself next year, we’ve put together some challenges you might want to set yourself and your team. 


Our Year in Numbers

It’s been another busy year for the Helpful Team working on a wide range of projects, delivering for clients in 32 countries across all seven continents – sometimes in person, sometimes remotely.

As one Helpful company working from two offices covering three key areas of work, we’ve achieved a lot.  We’ve welcomed three new members of staff this year, but sadly we also had to say goodbye to Marley.

Our space invader is no more, replaced by our new branding. As with many of our projects we shared our thinking and process behind our brand refresh in the hope that it’s helpful to others.


Here’s are just some of our highlights from 2019:


Between us and our partners, we’ve run 103 full crisis communications simulations with our Social Simulator along with 58 of the shorter Crisis 90 training sessions. A total of 161 exercises, or 3.1 per week

We handled 1,471 Zendesk support tickets for websites we host and support in 2019, of which 1,106 (75%) were sorted by our Helpdesk hero Matty, with 59% replied to within an hour.

Our website accessibility guidance has been very popular with our clients.

We’ve worked with a wide variety of teams in organisations large and small to build digital skills: 5,353 learners grew their digital skills on our Digital Action Plan online platform, while 1,190 communicators joined our training courses and workshops.

As a team we chose 14 great charities to support to the tune of £6,500, and did pro-bono work with another eight, including NSPCC, the JBVC foundation, Achieving for Children and BBC Media Action, Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link, Wandsworth Community Transport and Balgowan School

We now do a monthly round up of Helpful links and two of our most read blogs this year from the 29 we shared were Facebook pages can now join groups and Telling stories with Instagram stories.

We’ve participated in 9 conferences and events including IDR Expo, Allianz Conference, WordCamp Milano, Charity Comms Digital Conference, Indiewebcamp Berlin, Govcamp Cymru, Homebrew Website Club and more.

All of this hard work has been sustained by cakes and biscuits. In fact, 62 packets of biscuits over the whole of 2019 which we reckon equates to one per support ticket!

So all that remains is for us to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

If you have any questions for us please get in touch. We’re always happy to help.

5 challenges for companies on social media in 2020

Helpful Links: November

This month we have:

Presentation at CharityComms digital conference

Once again here’s our monthly round-up of the key links we’ve shared in our slack channels, this time with a focus on the general election, how the parties are using digital tools, and the issue of trust.

Facebook groups are really powerful, and can be very influential in local communities. In  Canterbury, the admin of their Facebook group, which has 35,000 members is seen as a key figure in coverage of the local election. All of the local candidates have agreed to do Facebook Live interviews in the group.   

There has been lots of scrutiny of political advertising on social media with Twitter banning it on their platform. ITV News has looked at how the parties target their audiences on Facebook.

The BBC are also encouraging people to send them information about political ads that appear in their Facebook feeds.  If you are curious about how you are being targeted and why political, or any other adverts, appear in your Facebook feed, use the ‘Why am I seeing this?’ option to find out more. Details of how to find it are at the end of this article.

It’s hard to say exactly how much influence social media will have over how people choose to vote. But we can see how well parties are doing in terms of engagement with their messages. This article looks at Instagram performance.

One really important factor in the success of day to day communications and crisis communications is trust. Who you choose as spokesperson can make a real difference to how your message is perceived.   The new Ipsos MORI Veracity Index finds trust in politicians has fallen over the last year, sending them spiralling back to the bottom of the index.


Research from the Guardian and Revealing Reality looks at how smartphone usage is changing the way we consume political news. 

Whether election related or not, if you aren’t sure about something you have read, you can search for topics or people in Google’s Fact Check Tools and it will list any recent fact checks about that person or thing in the media.


Helpful’s second firebreak

Last year, we had our first Helpful Firebreak, where the build team took 2 weeks from the usual project work to focus on internal projects.

You can read about the highlights of our first Firebreak.

This year we did things slightly differently, based on our learning from 2018.

What was different?

1 week instead of 2

We found last year that over 2 weeks there were too many distractions and project work whereas a week would be easier to focus. We held the firebreak during a quiet week so we could solely focus on firebreak tasks. For projects that overlapped with the firebreak, we ensured we gave plenty of warning to clients that we wouldn’t be available.

Refining the list of projects

We had a planning meeting the week before where we came prepared with what we wanted to work on. We all shared our ideas and discussed where there was overlap and the potential to team up. This meant there were fewer projects but more of a chance of getting tangible results.

What we did

Accessibility guidance – Katie

Katie Humphries

There are new accessibility requirements arriving in September for public sector bodies. The feedback from clients is that there was no plain-English information online about what they needed to do. We used the firebreak to learn in detail what the new requirements entailed and wrote a guide which we emailed out to clients.

Snippet from Helpfuls accessibility guide

You can download our accessibility guidance here.

Twig – Anthony

Anthony O'MalleySomething I’ve been keen to implement at Helpful for some years is separation of concerns within WordPress themes, specifically separation of presentational code (HTML) from logic (PHP) in the same way that styling (CSS) and DOM manipulation (JS) are forever separated.

As the Helpful build team expanded over the last year, the need for separation became more pronounced – one developer might need to wait for another to finish, two code bases might need stitching together, indeed code resembling a fresh spagbol might need detangling in order to make a tiny design tweak.

For Firebreak I built a WordPress theme using Timber. Timber is a WordPress plugin that allows for the use of Twig, a PHP templating language, within the theme folder (h/t to Mat Passmore for reigniting interests). A bunch of tricky templates didn’t take long to prepare with the help of Serena Piccioni, and my overall impression was that we’d ended up with a much cleaner more maintainable codebase – meat and potato if you will, rather than a linguine (sorry, Serena).

I’m happy to say as of November 2019 we’ve already implemented on three projects.

Intranet audit – Howard

Howard Gossington

I worked with Katie to help make the Helpful Intranet more useful for colleagues. Our intranet contains staff policies, plus answers to questions that folks shouldn’t have to bother colleagues about (like ‘How do I connect to the WiFi…?’)

Like many websites, our intranet has expanded steadily over the years. As content creators, we’re often keen to add new pages. But it’s easy to forget to update them – for example when an internal process changes, or a third-party tool gets a snazzy redesign.It’s also easy to forget to check how a new page might overlap with content already on the site. So, for firebreak 2019, we decided to review and update our intranet content based on needs.

We chose what we thought were the top 30 user and business needs. We created new pages or amended existing ones to meet those needs. This cut the number of pages by about 75%. We assigned each page to one or more of 4 categories (down from 9 before). These were: ’How do I?’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Office and company info’, ‘Staff policies’.

There are bound to be needs we’re not meeting, so we’ll keep on iterating and improving based on feedback. The intranet will never be ‘finished’. Just like any website.

Accessibility audit tool – Calum

Calum RyanThe idea for creating an accessibility audit came about following examination of different ways to record and present accessibility checks on websites. The accessibility checking tools available and their output was somewhat too overwhelming and not really user friendly.

For Firebreak we therefore decided to make a web-based prototype audit, presenting a more digestible presentation with specific details of different checks, issues and possible way to fix them. Besides learning about what to include in an accessibility audit, it also provided the opportunity to expand on features for our components library, figure out some new approaches to single page navigation and customisable user options for print layout.

Proposals – Steph

Steph Gray

It can be tricky in a small team tracking down up to date examples and descriptions of our methods that wecan use in reply to a client brief. It’s complicated by the range of formats we need to provide these in: 100 word answers, full page descriptions with examples, with or without diagrams. Plus, with copy/paste reuse there’s always the risk of embarrassing mistakes under time pressure. Previously, we hunted for this material in Google docs and old proposals on Dropbox, and racked our own project memory, but it felt inefficient and fraught with risks.

For Firebreak, I thought I’d try creating an internal library of proposal material using WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor, but realised that Gutenberg’s unstructured block model wasn’t right here: we need more structure to organise those snippets of text. What I came up with was a basic theme using Advanced Custom Fields to structure short/long form snippets with examples and image galleries, backed up with ACF’s handy front-end editing functions to enable easy updates when snippets are expanded or improved.

Trello – Matty

Matty MaxwellWe use Trello for all sorts of things within the office but probably the most important is, during a web build, as a shared workspace between us and our clients. We felt this was a good time to have a fresh look with a goal of making the ‘journey’ as transparent as possible for the client, providing explanation of what’s happening along the way in plain English, while also allowing the team to communicate at a fairly granular level.

The use of labels allows all to see who is responsible, at a team level (individuals generally join and leave cards as necessary), and where the card slots in terms of stage. We loosely follow the agile methodology of breaking projects up into more accessible chunks and organising based on when they are happening. In addition to this we also included a ‘Reference & Questions’ column for easy access to branding material for example and also for clients to pose queries not directly related to a card already in the timeline.

A snapshot of an example build template

Would we do anything differently next year?

This years firebreak worked well and so I think we’d try it again in the same format next year. We got a lot done in the week and some of the projects have transformed the way we work.

As Helpful continues to grow, we may split the firebreak over two weeks with different teams, so we are able to continue with projects and are less distracted by inevitable support tickets.

Helpful Links: October

This month we have:

Once again here’s our monthly round-up of the key links we’ve shared in our slack channels that we don’t want to keep to ourselves. 

Take some time out from your busy day to learn from others and catch-up on the latest digital trends from capability to accessibility. 

Crisis Comms

Fake news is a real worry for many organisations as this FT article shows (apologies that for some readers this article is behind a paywall).

Social media channels are working to combat fake news and this month both Instagram and Twitter have announced measures to try to tackle the issue

Twitter has also said that it will ban political advertising, as founder Jack Dorsey explained in this Twitter thread.

First Draft have launched a new daily and weekly newsletter for people interested in information disorder. You can sign up via their website to receive a round-up of the most important reads on disinformation from around the world.

We were delighted to be part of the Cascadia Rising exercise, run over two days in late October 2019, designed to test the decision-making and public information response to a category 9.0 earthquake impacting the Pacific north west of the U.S following tectonic activity within the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Find out more about how it went and key takeaways for PIOs and comms teams. 


Digital Capability

Images are a vital part of digital story-telling but the choice of image also matters. Here’s why the Guardian are changing the types of image they use to illustrate their climate change stories 

The BBC has launched the UK’s first interactive voice news service. 

🎧 Episode 7 of the mepra podcast looks at Elevating measurement and evaluation practices and how to win awards

Jonty Summers shares a call with Richard Bagnall, Co-Managing Partner at CARMA International and Chairman of AMEC; Richard is also the 2019 MEPRA Awards Adjudicator. Amongst other key topics, Richard shares his views on what makes an award-winning entry, important things to remember and key measurement principles. Available to Download via iTunes, Google, Spotify.


It’s good to see major companies taking accessibility seriously, this month Vimeo announced updates to make their player more accessible for all.

We’ve put together these quick and simple tips to help you to ensure that your social media is accessible.

Couple of niceties landing with WordPress 5.3 – handling the case of extremely large images being uploaded, and a “show password” button on the login screen:

The BBC has made its international news website available via the Tor network, in a bid to thwart censorship attempts.

IndieWebCamp was back in Brighton this month for a weekend of talks, discussion and making. Here’s Calum’s recap and thoughts on the event


Finally, some very sad news from Helpful HQ this week, Marley, our much-loved Puglicity Manager died. We will all miss him very much. 

Understanding 10 types of ‘fake news’

The popularisation of the term ‘fake news’ is often incorrectly used to describe various forms of troublesome content published on modern media networks. However, generalising all deceptive content as ‘fake news’ is problematic because by not properly defining the context of the content, it’s challenging to respond appropriately.  Instead, the importance lies in the ability to appropriately identify and understand the nature of content. In a modern world where content is created and shared instantaneously, the ability to recognise and prioritise posts posing a risk to reputation and audience awareness, is the key challenge for communications and business continuity professionals alike.

There are ten types of ‘fake news’ – one of which is actually called fake news. Each one of the ten forms of deceptive or illusional content carries a varying level of threat, influence and intent. The focus needs to be on identifying the types of content which are malicious in nature and present a high-risk threat of causing panic and confusion.


Average level of risk = high

The deliberate publishing of untrue information and disguising it as news. Purely created to misinform audiences, actual fake news is completely false and the intention was never to report genuine facts.

Source: endingthefed


Average level of risk = high

The deliberate altering of content to change the meaning. Includes reporting quotes out of context, along with cropping an image to not accurately resemble the true story.

Source: Twitter


Average level of risk = high

The use of digital technology to replicate the live facial movements and voice of another person in a video. The actor in the video becomes a ‘human green screen’, enabling the final video to be a realistic impersonation of a high-profile person. Viral cases of deepfake videos include falsified clips of Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg.

Source: Youtube


Average level of risk = high

The creation of multiple social media personalities of opposing views. The intention is to cause a deliberate clash between two (or more) parties. For example; deliberately creating two fake events, both pitched at supporters of opposing political parties, to be held at the same place, time and day.

Source: texastribune


Average level of risk = high

Schemes aimed at unlawfully obtaining personal information from online users. Malicious web links are sent to users via text, email or other online messaging platforms, resembling a genuine message from a real person or company. The personal data entered after clicking through to the malicious web link is then harvested by cyber criminals.

Source: Lucinda Fraser, Twitter


Average level of risk = medium

Typically, a combination of accurate and incorrect content. Common examples of misinformation include misleading headlines, and using ill-informed and unverified sources to support a story.

Source: Brighton & Hove City Council


Average level of risk = medium

Information shared without verification. Often occurs shortly after an incident (e.g. natural disaster or terrorist attack) when little information is known for certain.

Source: Twitter


Average level of risk = medium

Sensationalised headlines aimed at attracting attention for readership. Each time the article is read, the author owner of the advertisement receives a payment (also referred to as ‘pay-per-click’ advertising).

Source: Evening Standard


Average level of risk = low

Content created for comic and entertainment purposes. Examples include online profiles that mimic an official account or person, and articles featuring dark humour.

Source: Betoota Advocate

10. BOT

Average level of risk = low

Profiles online that are not operated by humans, nor represent real users. Profiles are generated and run by automated technology systems (sometimes referred to as click farms or bot warehouses) often contributing to online discussions en masse. Social networks regularly remove profiles that do not appear to represent real users. However, because the profile creation process is automated, the removal rate often cannot compete with the new bot profiles constantly being added to the network.

Source: Medium

Taking the time to properly understand the level of risk associated with troublesome content is an imperative investment in resilient corporate communications. Developing a knowledge of all types of content will save an organisation time, money and stress in the heat of a response. Risk, priorities and threats will differ from organisation to organisation, but understanding and identifying the nature of content correctly will enable an effective response.

Beyond Fake News, EAVI, 2017

Feature image by Wokandapix via Pixabay

Three reasons why you should keep a diary in a crisis

During a crisis response, everything runs on fast-forward. Days roll into months, and as the stakes change, the response evolves to cope. When the storm passes and business returns to usual, the stress, trigger points and decisions behind a past crisis are likely to morph into a memory of a tough time. This is why keeping a record is so important. To help get you started, I’ve prepared a basic template to save you time.

Keeping note of the timing, decisions and motivation supporting why actions were taken is beneficial for three reasons:

1. Legal proceedings

Remembering finer details that lead to decisions being made made six months, a year or four years ago is challenging task. Mix this with the pressure of being summoned to testify at an official enquiry and doubt may begin to cloud the ability to confidently recall supporting detail of noteworthy experiences. This is why it is so important to document key decisions and changes as they happen in a response. Succinct entries explaining who, what, when, why and how will help in recounting intricate past experiences.

2. Organisational recovery

Learning from successes and shortcomings in a crisis response is what makes an organisation more resilient. To do this, documenting what enabled for parts of the response to be successful, or lead to other elements fall short is crucial. Understanding the context supporting actions is key to improving and retaining the desired outcome of a response. The recovery phase of a crisis is the time to understand and implement the learnings, however if experiences weren’t progressively documented during the responding phase, this will impact the authenticity of recommendations for the organisation to adopt moving forward.

3. Personal development

Working on a crisis response tests the boundaries of one’s comfort zone, emotional threshold, and professional ability. It is a time where, to a degree, everyone learns on the job. The value of the people working in a crisis cell is not in their experience, but their willingness to be receptive of learning from it. Recording moments of triumphs and frustrations, observations and reflections of performance, will make for a better future responder. Every experience not documented is a learning lost.

Follow Kate Rawlins on Twitter.

Social media timesavers for small teams

It’s very likely that the social media for your organisation will be looked after by one person. If you’re reading this, It’s probably you! Even larger companies might only have a small digital team looking after the social media, website and more all at once.

If you are the sole person responsible or part of a small team, there’s only so much you can do with the time you have (especially if it fits alongside other responsibilities), but there are some things that you can do to make the most of the time you have. To help, I’ve come up with a few pieces of time-saving advice.

Don’t take on more than you can handle

If you’re doing it all solo, you need to prioritise and make best use of your time. Having more than one active social media channel is something to consider carefully as it’ll take double the time. It’s best to focus on one or two well than devote a fraction of time to three, four or more – the content will suffer because of it. Only focusing on one or two channels also means you can spend more time developing meaningful engagement amongst customers and potential customers.

Use user-generated content

Look to see what your followers are posting. Are there opportunities to ask them for content? Using content generated from your followers will save you time you would have spent creating new content. This can be done by asking people to share photos using a hashtag or you could always create an email address for people to send in photos. By creating good Twitter lists and monitoring your supporters, you may also discover great stories or testimonials which they may be willing to share.

The British Heart Foundation are great at using user-generated content. With the hashtag #BoughtAtBHF they can easily find and use the photos shared of people enjoying items bought from their shops.

Recycle and Reuse

Content can be used more than once, in fact it’s highly encouraged, especially when people might have missed you posting it the first time. Content can also be reused in different ways. A blog can be turned into a twitter thread and a GIF can be created from a video for example.

Some more tips for reusing content:

  • Create things that have a longer life to them by not including anything that dates it such as a calendar in the background of a video.
  • Keep an eye on trending topics, national events and occasions being marked where you can reuse video or graphics.
  • Remind yourself regularly about older content that’s still usable. Don’t forget, older videos can be refreshed with a quick re-cut which will take less work that doing a whole new video from scratch.
  • If the content is really old, post it as a throwback and make something out of its age. For example, you could talk about how much has changed since you last posted it. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency compared then to now with this great post:

This post from St Bart’s NHS Trust managed to combine an old photo with a call for user generated content showing how easy it is to combine the two!

Keep Content Simple

Large companies have huge budgets at their disposal for creating high quality social media content. Whilst it’s a good idea to see what they are up and and collect inspiration from them, it would be impossible to duplicate what they make on a fraction of the budget. Even short videos can take longer than you might think to create. To make the most of your time, don’t overcomplicate your content. Content can be simple whilst still being effective and simple doesn’t have to mean boring or safe.

I particularly like this post from charity ChildAid who created a simple GIF thank you message. It’s bright and catches the eye without being too over the top.

Stick to the plan

It’s often the case that it’s the extra unplanned work that takes up a lot of your time. By planning carefully, having a content calendar and being strict with what social media content you will produce, it will allow you to work more effectively. It’s also important to plan in some contingency time just in case things out of your control force the schedule to be pushed back. Save any additional ideas you have for future projects or campaigns rather than shoe-horning them in to your current one.

Accessibility for social media

In 2018, new legislation was brought in to ensure public sector websites are accessible. But what about the 1.2 billion of us who are active on social media every day?

Simple changes to the way you post social media can make a huge difference for those with a disability. Here’s some top tips on how to make your posts accessible.

Image descriptions (alt text)

Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images. However, those using screen reading software (which can’t describe images) or even users with a slow internet connection may have trouble understanding your post without a description. Provide alternative text which describes the image, which screen readers will read out.

If you use an image with text in, like an infographic, include a text version either within the tweet (or threaded tweet) or by linking to a webpage with all the information in.

Luckily, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are making image descriptions the norm. Facebook and Instagram even add automated image descriptions on posts using AI.

How to set image descriptions on Twitter

How to set image descriptions on Instagram

How to set image descriptions on Facebook



Video captions

Video captions don’t just benefit users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Have you ever tried to watch a video in public but don’t have your headphones to hand? Make sure every video you post has captions.

Both Facebook and YouTube auto generate subtitles when you upload a video, but you can edit them to make sure they are accurate. Twitter and LinkedIn don’t have this functionality yet but you can downloaded a .srt file of the subtitles generated on YouTube to upload to other channels with your video.

Don’t forget about Instagram stories! Although Instagram doesn’t have this functionality built in yet, tools like Clipomatic can help.

Example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez using captioning on her Instagram story
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez using captions on her Instagram story

Mashable’s guide to adding captions to Instagram stories

How to add captions to YouTube videos

How to add subtitles on Twitter

How to add subtitles on LinkedIn

How to add subtitles on Facebook

Audio descriptions

Audio description explains what is happening a video, so people with vision problems are able to understand it. Unfortunately, audio description tools aren’t as widely available as captioning tools and adding additional audio to a video isn’t always possible. Try to add a description of what is happening in the video in a threaded tweet or comment.

For talking heads or where the video is text only (like slides), descriptions aren’t needed.

Flashing videos / images

Flashing images or videos can cause distress to users and can even be harmful for epileptics. 20,000 people in the UK suffer from epilepsy and The Epilepsy Society has asked for social media companies to put warnings on flashing content (like sensitive content) or ban it altogether. It’s best to avoid using them at all.

Writing hashtags

If you are using multiple words in a hashtag, they can be very difficult for some users to read. Use titlecase for each word in the hashtag to keep it clear.

#isthiseasiertoread or #IsThisEasierToRead?

Using emojis

Screen-reading software does read out emojis so using them is fine but it will read out every one so keep them to a minimum. Here’s an example:

I love my dog ❤️” would be read as “I love my dog heart


I love my dog ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️” would be read as “I love my dog heart heart heart heart heart heart

To summarise

When you’re posting to social media just think about how users with disabilities will be viewing the post. This tweet from @NyleDiMarco sums it up perfectly:

Helpful’s 2019 brand refresh

The Helpful website recently underwent a facelift and I managed to sneak our brand into surgery along with it. It’d been a little while since we’d made any significant changes to either, five years to be exact, and on that pretext I managed to get my own way a little more than I might. Here’s a little breakdown of some of the thinking behind it all.

Where’s the space invader?

I’m not exactly sure of his backstory, but the Helpful space invader has loomed impishly in the corner on websites, in presentations, and print since as long as I remember — too long, I’d heard grumbled on occasion.

In 2014 I succeeded in dieting Mr Invader down slightly, making him less pumpkin-like, and more symmetrical. And in 2019 I’ve managed to diet him down further still. He’s still here, he’s just, well, smaller, and features more subtly nowadays — something that suits the business better as it approaches double digits, I feel.

2019 Helpful logotype

The 2019 logotype is a bit more mature, and without an icon has a more solid footprint. Mr Invader lives on in low res form as an offset. But don’t be sad. He also sneaks his ear into the corner of coloured backgrounds, and most of all you can feel his pervasive spirit influencing thumbnail dimensions and the overall pixelated feel about the place.

Futura and Proxima Nova

For Helpful’s typography Futura Bold and Proxima Nova replace Monserrat Regular and Open Sans — never a happy marriage, I felt.

Futura is an iconic 1927 typeface by Paul Renner that communicates efficiency and forwardness. Its geometric forms and near even weight strokes work well with our pixel theme, and its solid mass helps with visual hierarchy — something previously lacking.

Proxima Nova meanwhile is our workhorse. Its geometric forms and proportions also give our voice efficiency, and because of its numerous weights and generous x-height, it has plenty of versatility and clarity on screens, even at the smallest of sizes.

Amethyst, Helpful’s new brand colour


For our new brand colour we’ve moved around the colour wheel slightly from Seance, which felt somewhat heavy and somber, to Amethyst (or Dark Orchid, depending on who you ask).

Amethyst is a variety of quartz, and among the Ancient Greeks it was thought to protect its bearers from intoxication. Not a perfect fit then. Nevertheless, what’s important is it’s lively and vibrant and therefore better communicates the company’s disposition going into 2020.

We’re sticking with it across all properties for consistency and recognisability.

Blues and greens also feature in our new palette:

#9DD8FCColumbia Blue
#3B77B7Curious Blue
#0AC6B0Caribbean Green
#0F8577Sea Green

Columbia Blue replaces lime as our primary accent and Curious Blue replaces violet for headlines and colour blocks – Columbia is cool and calming, Curious is technical and authoritative.

Sea Green and Caribbean Green are used more sparingly and inject a bit of aquatic calm and harmony into the palette – important qualities in crises and digital capabilities.

We also have a bunch of additional accents which can be used to help categorise, highlight, differentiate, and generally liven things up a bit, particularly on PowerPoint presentations when we have a bit more freedom to stretch out:


Vectors, isometrics

Lastly, our pixel theme informs our imagery: we favour 1×1 image dimensions, full bleed, geometric forms, and clean minimal vectors, particularly isometrics.


Photography is used carefully, and when it is, we avoid poor quality mobile phone snaps, cheesy stock photography, and prefer events themselves over the sometimes alarming scenarios they simulate.

Alasdair Dick presenting at the conference

In general, we look for:

  • Positivity, empowerment, expertise, friendliness, creativity
  • Well lit and well composed subjects with good dynamic range
  • Resolved photographs, i.e., a single point of focus
  • Depth, e.g., a room vs a wall
  • Simple rather than busy
  • Related, e.g., related colours and style

Isn’t that right, team?

Artful photography

It’s not always possible to photograph simulations and training sessions, in which case it’s better to illustrate in some way the subject of the simulation or the nature of the client’s work. On these occasions we’re careful to avoid anything too downbeat.

plane at gate


In the case of web build work, screenshots are preferable although we’re careful to present these in context – i.e., a photograph of a screen with the screenshot on display rather than an actual screenshot itself. Video can work particularly well here.

Over to the client

It’s been an interesting and at times fun process adding some paint here, a potted plant there. The 2014 brand refresh wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the old Helpful Site was given a fair bit of thought and began life in a fairly aesthetic state, I felt. Alas, it wasn’t long before dodgy shelving units went up and grandma’s tea chest was wheeled in — always the danger when clients have code access. We shall see how long this one lasts! Watch this space.