At Blue Sky, we’re frequently asked for advice on the use of captions when releasing video on social media.
There are a number of reasons why you might consider captions, but the most widespread issue is that platforms, such as Facebook, automatically launch videos in silence. It’s only when the viewer actively clicks on the video player that the sound is switched on.
Obviously, this is a user friendly feature, in that none of us likes to be blasted by sound unwillingly – particularly if it’s also imposed on fellow commuters or office colleagues.
The danger we risk with video that launches in silence is that unless your video immediately opens with eye-catching imagery, it may fail to grab the attention of your audience as they scroll through their newsfeeds.
Without some instant sense of the video’s narrative, viewers may pass over your video, unaware of its subject matter and that it relates to their interests. It’s here that captions can have impact and make a real difference. In just the first few phrases of captions, the topic and headline messaging in your video can be clearly highlighted for your audience. This can increase engagement and bring you closer to your goals.
Captions – Choosing Your Method
There are several ways you can put captions on your social video, but each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. To prevent headaches further down the line it’s worth thinking through the practicalities before choosing your captioning method.
Are We Talking Captions or Subtitles?
Before we get stuck in, let’s just clear up the question of terminology. Strictly speaking ‘captions’ refer to on-screen readable words that are presented when the sound is turned off when playing a film or video, whereas ‘subtitles’ are on-screen words that are designed to run when the sound is playing. Subtitles usually address the needs of certain viewers, such as those with hearing impairment or those who need the language translated.
However, given the increasing range of ‘on-the-go’ mobile viewing habits, the boundaries between these terms is becoming blurred. Consequently, for the practical purposes of this post the term ‘captions’ can equally be taken to mean ‘subtitles’.
Hard and Soft Captions
At the outset, captioning video can be divided into two main methods – hard captioning and soft captioning (Otherwise known as Open and Closed captions).
Soft captions are served to the viewer on top of the video and can be generated by tools within some social media platforms. Soft captions are not actually part of the video itself.
Alternatively, within some platforms, captions can be created by uploading a caption text file along with the video file. Commonly used caption text file formats include .srt, .ass, .sbv and .sub files.
Facebook gives you the option of uploading an .srt file and YouTube gives you the option of uploading a number of caption text file forms.
When it comes to LinkedIn, uploading a .srt is the only option available. At present, LinkedIn doesn’t have its own caption generating tools.
Twitter and Instagram currently don’t support any form of soft captioning for video, so hard captions are the only option.
The viewer has the option of turning soft captions on and off whenever they want.
The keywords within the soft captions can bring search benefits within YouTube. This means that all the words within your soft captions are referred to as keywords when searches are conducted within YouTube.
It’s worth noting that this only applies when a caption text file e.g a .srt file is uploaded to YouTube.
Captions generated automatically from within YouTube are not referenced in keyword searches. This is because automatically generated captions may include significant errors where the speech recognition software has not been able to reproduce the words accurately. For this reason, YouTube does not rely on automatically generated captions when it comes to keyword search.
Remember – for search discoverability, captions are only really helpful if the words in the captions echo the keyword search terms you hope to be found for.
Facebook and YouTube enable you to create soft captions when you upload a video. This can be cheaper and quicker than hard captions, if you’re familiar with these tools.
When creating soft captions within a social media platform, you may not have much choice over the appearance of the captions e.g. font type, size, colour and transition style.
The person uploading the video needs to understand the caption settings and how to generate soft captions within the social media platform to ensure they appear as desired.
Alternatively, you will need to know how to create a closed caption text file or pay for a caption file to be produced in order to add soft captions by uploading a caption file. There are many online services that will create caption files for you cheaply and quickly, but you will need an accurate proof reader to check them carefully.
When using automatically generated captions within Facebook and YouTube, the person uploading the video will also to be a reliable proof reader. They will be required to correct all the spellings, punctuation and misinterpreted words accurately.
Hard captions are produced when the video is edited and are permanently ‘burnt’ into your video as part of the actual video file.
You don’t have to rely on your team members and affiliates knowing how to generate the captions from the tools within each social media platform. e.g both Facebook and YouTube allow you to generate soft captions from within their own environment.
When using hard captions, you don’t need to worry about caption text files either. Uploading a caption text file is an alternative method of adding captions.
You don’t have to rely on users choosing the right settings in their social media account or device operating system to enable the continuous playing of captions; nor run the risk of caption glitches. Problems have been reported with some mobile OS updates.
Hard captions will always be present and play reliably no matter what technology is being used to play the video.
You have complete control over the style of your captions – colour, font, transition effects etc…
The viewer does not have the choice of turning the captions on and off.
There will be an extra cost in the edit of your video for the inclusion of hard captions – although the charge is usually modest for this.
You will need a separate uncaptioned version of your video for other viewing occasions, such as presentations and live event screenings.
Hard Captions Versus Soft Captions – Weighting It All Up
If you are going to release a video file to people who may not have the digital marketing savvy to handle using captioning tools within a social media channel or know how to generate a caption text file, then you may want to consider using hard captions. This will ensure the captions will play reliably wherever and however the video is presented.
If on the other hand, your video will be managed by people confident with social media tools, then the flexibility of soft captions is a valuable option. It puts you and the viewer in control of when and where the captions appear.
In particular, it’s worthwhile considering using soft captions (via a caption file upload) when releasing a video on YouTube. The extra keyword discoverability can help you reach your audience and increase your views.
Blue Sky Film & Media – Video Production
If you would like to explore ideas and possibilities for your own video production project, please contact us via our Bristol or Cheltenham office at either –