Introducing the Grove through New Media & Accessibility

One of the big things that our Grove has sought to do is improve how we reach out to people who might be interested. It’s no secret that we’ve been building our online presence with different sorts of media: as a public tradition of Neopaganism, letting people know when our rituals are, and who we are as the celebrants of that religion, is vitally important.

Social media has made the process of walking the fine line between “telling people we’re here” and “proselytizing” much easier to walk in many ways. It not only allows us to create content of use, but to distribute it easily as well.

There are a few reasons that we create content that’s varied, sharable, and targeted to our members and the people we think are interested. Primarily, it’s because we think that everyone deserves to feel like they own, belong to, and are valued by our Grove.

Varied Content Brings a Feeling of Ownership

The creation of content that is broad in type and varied in topic shows that you’re not a “one trick pony” in the digital world, and it helps you reach out broadly to people with a variety of interests. Not everyone likes videos, newsletters, email lists, or Twitter, but most people like one of those types of things. If you can provide content across a few different platforms, you’ll find that you create a varied community filled with people who want to see more of what you can do.

If your organization offers “just one thing,” whether that’s a podcast, a member newsletter, a YouTube page, or a blog, it doesn’t really offer “enough” for most people to come and “like” your Facebook page. For people to feel invested in your work, you’ll need to offer more.

If there’s one true thing about this Druidry thing, it’s that “we’re all in this together.” We want to create things that help people feel like they’re part of the group. Meeting them where they are and fitting their ecosystem is important to that. It lets people feel like they own a portion of Our Own Druidry.

Sharable Content Brings a Feeling of Belonging

Sharing a post isn’t just about finding something funny or insightful; often, it’s also about feeling like the content belongs to them and reflects their worldview.

Sharing is the easiest part of activism: you can share a status to show solidarity. A lot of folks look down on this level of activism because it is so simple. What they discount, though, is that sharing is a form of empathy and a way of understanding the world that helps form an initial connection with a cause, person, or group.

Don’t look down on people who “just share a post.” They’re working their way toward belonging in a community. There’s no rush. Make it easy for them, if you can, and you’ll find that in the long run, more people feel like they “belong” with you, and that you “belong” to them than you ever thought possible.

Targeted Content Brings a Feeling of Being Valued

Content that speaks directly to what people are talking about is very important. Listen to the conversations going on in public in your social media circles and create content that’s relevant to that.

Late last year, we created a graphic that reaffirmed that we are a safe space for anyone who needs one after seeing a number of people in our social circles express concern and fear as minorities.

A statement of diversity for our Grove. In essence:

Our Grove created this graphic to give voice to individuals who felt frightened by current events. It was so popular, we created branded versions for several other Groves who asked as well.

The one caveat to “listening to your social media circles” is the same rule I have for public prayer: if you’re talking to just one person, it’s not for public consumption.

Let’s talk a little bit about why we create graphical and other content, and what it means to be accessible in the digital arena.

Why Create Graphical Content?

A simple sigil of the cosmos, with two curved lines designed to suggest a tree, and a hole in the center. At the top, a fire, and on the bottom, water. A line divides the center with arrows that imply balance.
The Cosmos in balance: the Fire of Heaven and the Waters of the Earth. Content need not be complicated to be useful.

Simply put, graphical content is sharable content. This isn’t because it’s “easy,” but because it’s friendly and meaningful.

Humans seem to enjoy sharing things that move them. Text, such as poetry or a list of omens taken in a ritual, is useful, but not visually interesting.

It’s easy to create text and share it, but a lot of people scroll through their feeds and entirely skip over text posts (I know I’m guilty of it myself; you likely are, too). Photos and pictures provide a richness of information it takes us time to parse if we have to read it.

ADF rites also have a key advantage regarding the review of rituals: simply snapping a picture of the omens after the rite can give you a picture to help generate content. Take the picture, add your interpretation, and you have a pretty complete blog post and ritual review built in.

An illustration of an omen image from one of our Druid Moons, with runes in the foreground and an interpretation in the background
You can create images like this right on your phone with several free apps…including Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. This one was created in Adobe Spark Post.

Even if you don’t have the technical know-how to put words on a picture, adding a picture to your post will go a long way toward getting people to notice and share it. Find something copyright-free (or Creative Commons licensed) or take a picture with your phone and add it to your post.

It does not have to be complicated: see the sigil above for just how simple a graphic you can create. It’s reasonably clean, concise, and simple, but adding an image to a post goes a long way toward making it more visually appealing, as well as conveying your point better.

Media Ecosystems

It’s not just images that make a difference: video, eBooks, and websites are vital to creating an experience that helps people feel connected to you. Smartphones have been incredibly valuable in making this sort of technology accessible.

It has, in fact, gotten to the point that if you aren’t creating several kinds of media, you’re simply not using the available resources to the best of your ability. We highly recommend adding on to whatever you’re doing with some additional work.

Each piece helps you get your ideas out to more people, which will help you get the word out that you offer public ritual, and bring more people to your rites.

Set a plan in place to build additional kinds of content, and do what you can to talk to other Groves who have gone before on this. Almost everyone is happy to help in a lot of different ways.

If you choose to engage in this, I’ll recommend doing it like Three Cranes did: one step at a time. Create a YouTube page, a podcast, a Twitter account, or a Facebook page. Build it up for a while, and then use it as a springboard to advertise other services as they come online. Your audience will follow you if you show them you value them.

Creating Accessible Content

ADF’s founder, Isaac Bonewits, was on point when he wrote in our founding documents: “Neopagans are going to need publicly accessible worship, teaching, counseling, and healing.” (from “The Vision of ADF“).

One of the key things that we’ve been focusing on is the creation of media that isn’t just for people without disability: it’s for everyone who comes to Druidry, no matter how they arrive there.

What that really means, in the context of this post, is that no matter what you create, you have to take an extra step to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Images must have “alt” tags that describe what they are to a screen reader for blind individuals. Videos need closed captioning for hard of hearing or deaf individuals. Podcasts need transcripts uploaded to go with their audio content. Membership newsletters that are done in print need to be provided in accessible eBook or .pdf versions as well as the physical print.

There is, occasionally, an assumption that “someone else will take care of that,” that content will eventually be made by people “other than me.” This simply isn’t the case: we need to create accessible content from Day 1, in all of the things we make, and we need to continually go back and update stuff we made before we came around to understanding this.

Our Grove has started to add Closed Captioning to short videos as part of the process of posting them on the Internet, for example, and place longer videos into a queue to create CC files as we go (including our back catalog).

This has also extended itself into some of my personal work: at The Magical Druid, a store I also run here in Columbus, we put together a set of ogham using Braille for the names of the trees, and raising the symbols off the wood (as opposed to burning them into the wood).

Ogham tiles that have Braille names of trees written on them
Accessibility requires us to think outside our usual boxes. These Braille oghams came about when an ADF member asked about accessible divination. Check out the blog entry on this set.

I encourage everyone to seriously think about accessibility because, frankly, it’s a human rights issue, too: if you believe that everyone deserves equal access to all media and information, then you agree with me. You may just not have thought about it in this context before.

Other Reasons to Create Accessible Content

It’s entirely possible that “You should create accessible content because it’s the right thing to do” isn’t persuasive (I’ve met plenty of people who continue to argue “it’s too hard” or “it should be someone else’s responsibility”). For you, I have additional reasons.

Above, you’ll see a video we did with Closed Captioning added into the video. This has a hidden advantage: on nearly every social media service, video plays first without audio. Displaying Closed Captioning provides additional visual information about what’s going on, and makes people more likely to watch the entire video.

If you have an option to upload a CC sidecar file (and you can create them after uploading a video to YouTube pretty easily, actually, with just a little bit of training). You can then take the sidecar file you generated with YouTube and import it to Facebook… and now you have native content on two services with Closed Captioning.

Alt tags on images make them more searchable for your key terms, as well as improving their search results in Google. If you upload two pictures of your rituals onto the internet, and one has an alt tag that describes what’s going on, not only will it be ranked higher because accessible content is ranked higher, but it will be ranked higher because the “Google Robot” that reviews your website will know what it’s about.

An eBook is superior in accessibility to a .pdf in many ways (responsive text height and flow, screen reader accessibility, and ease in editing and creation are just some of the ways). If you create a newsletter or book, you should start designing for the eBook first. It’s far easier to design for accessibility than it is to create it later.

And both eBooks and .pdf files have a huge advantage over flat print: you can add in slide shows, do full color images, and even add videos. Today, any publication that designs itself as “print first” is missing out on audience. You should design for “print last,” if only because your print version is the least accessible, least dynamic option you have for getting your ideas out there.

That set of ogham I mentioned above? I still consider it the most beautiful, functional, and amazing set I ever created. The fact that it’s more accessible is cool, but by far not the only cool thing about it.

At the end of the day, the real joy of providing accessible content is that accessible content is richer, more vibrant content than a flat, single-use file could ever be. Seek greater possibilities, and help us live up to a world where modern Paganism and magic are accessible to all.