How to add subtitles to your online videos to make them more engaging

When scrolling through social media, most people are doing so with the sound off.

Some publishers report that as many as 85 per cent of viewers are watching their videos silently.

So how do you attract attention in these circumstances? Add subtitles. 

It might sound laborious, but it’s increasingly straightforward – and it makes a huge difference to your engagement and watch-time rates.

There are two ways to add subtitles to videos. You can use open captions or closed captions. 

The former is added during the editing process and are burned in’ to the video so they cannot be removed. 

Generally, this involves the long-winded task of manually transcribing the text on screen during the editing process.

Closed captions, however, are much easier to deal with and are used cleverly by Facebook. 

Closed captions can be toggled on or off by the viewer and are added after the video has been made, so you can even add them to a video you edited and uploaded years ago. 

If you watch a YouTube video and click the CC’ icon in the bottom right of the player window you will see closed captions appear. 

On YouTube, the process is automated by default using speech-recognition software. It’s increasingly good, but can stumble over accents, punctuation and some technical terms. 

However, within the Studio function of YouTube you can edit the automatic transcription until it’s perfect. 

The majority of the work will have been done automatically and you will only have to apply a few tweaks, which saves typing out thousands of words of speech. 

If you want full control, though, the YouTube system is very intuitive and allows you to type as the video is rolling, pausing when you take your fingers off the keys. And the cleverness doesn’t end there.

Once you have your transcription honed on YouTube you can download the text in various formats. If you select the ‘.srt’ file you can take your subtitles with you to Facebook.

Facebook also has an automatic subtitling function but it’s nowhere near as advanced as YouTube’s just yet and it is not applied by default, so most uploaders miss it. 

So, if you’re a creator who uploads videos to YouTube and Facebook, it pays to start with YouTube and get your subtitles file before moving over to Facebook.

Once in possession of the .srt file, you will need to rename it otherwise it won’t work with Facebook’s systems. Simply change it from to and you’re good to go.

Click the Subtitles and captions (CC)’ option in the upload window, select your language and upload the file. 

The timings that you set in YouTube, with the text and the on-screen action matching up, will be preserved and replicated on Facebook.

So how does this look to the end user? Facebook knows if viewers are scrolling with sound on or off. If you have uploaded a video with closed-caption subtitles, Facebook will automatically add those subtitles to the screen when the user is in mute mode. 

If the user is scrolling with their sound turned on, Facebook will not automatically add the subtitles. However, it will then give the user the opportunity to toggle the subtitles on or off at their discretion.

As you can see, if you are uploading to YouTube and Facebook it’s a process that is largely automated and requires only a little bit of manual effort. 

You don’t even need to make the YouTube video publicly accessible – you could just use the platform as an aid to subtitle your Facebook videos.

Unfortunately, Twitter and Instagram are yet to support closed-caption subtitles, but LinkedIn’s system works in a similar way to Facebook’s with the use of .srt files. 

The benefits for engagement make adding subtitles well worth it. Knowing exactly what is going on in a video, even if viewers are scrolling silently by, is much more likely to stop them in their tracks and get them invested in your content. 

Remember, if you are creating a video for scrollable social media like Facebook you only get a short window in which to grab people’s attentions. Don’t waste it on a fancy animated intro, go straight in with something engaging like speech or a voiceover. 

With subtitles, everyone will instantly get the gist. 

There are other benefits to adding subtitles, too. 

Google can access the transcript, making your videos much more searchable, particularly if they contain names or jargon that the automated subtitler would miss.

Finally, subtitles also make the online world much more accessible to people with hearing problems, which can only be a positive thing.

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