Stop kidding yourself: your videos need subtitles

This blog was prompted by something that came up during a live chat on our Facebook page this week – WHY ARE WE STILL POSTING VIDEOS WITHOUT CLOSED CAPTIONS?

If you missed the Lunchtime Hustle chat, you can relive the whole thing, or you can just scroll down for a more in-depth look at creating captions – aka subtitles – for your videos.


When a video pops into your feed on Facebook, how do you react?

The chances that you said “I tap on the video, make it full screen and activate the audio so that I can evaluate whether it’s of interest to me” are essentially zero. For so many brands and businesses, sinking money into video without providing captions means you are just waving hello-goodbye at your potential customers as they sail past your message and down their news feed.

2016 Facebook numbers showed captioned video ads increased video view time by an average of 12%.

They also suggested something like 80% of users watch video without sound.

At a bare minimum, we should all be running a mental checklist for all our video content before we create and post it:

  • How compelling is the first 15-30 seconds? Most people will never pass that length, but people who do will keep watching because your video really slapped them in the face with something great in the opening 15 seconds.
  • Does it need more than just raw footage? What typography, graphics, or visual elements will sell what is yet to come in the video? A good place to start is with the videos you find yourself responding to – what makes them visually striking?
  • Lastly: how much of the video makes sense without sound?

Essentially, why not play to the 80%? To engage the 80% of humans watching video without sound (hi, y’all!) you need captions, and for that, you’ll likely need an .SRT file.

What is an .SRT file?

A sub-rip file format is probably the most basic file-type for closed captions, but it’s also probably all you need. It contains all the content of your captions as well as the times at which you want them displayed.

For Facebook and YouTube videos, you have the option to upload an .SRT file to your videos – in multiple languages if you like – which will let users turn subtitles on and off on YouTube, or have the captions show automatically in the Facebook new feed, and disappear when a user taps into your video.

(There’s also a follow up question here – why an .SRT file? That’s because this blog post assumes you’re not in the business of making videos, but you are using video to promote your business on platforms including Facebook, and Facebook definitely wants you to use an .SRT file.)

Where do I get my .SRT files from?

In an ideal world, all this would be done for us, but at the moment the automatic options are a little thin on the ground for Australian businesses.

To be fair, we do have the notoriously hilarious automatic subtitle generator on YouTube.

Facebook also offers automatic caption generation when you are creating video ads, but sadly for most of us in Australia, automatic caption generation hasn’t rolled out yet for videos we simply upload to our pages. It’s also exclusively available in English at this point. (Here are some details anyway because we are nothing if not optimists!)

You can, in a pinch, create a .SRT file in a text editor or subtitling program, but it’s a terrible option and one we hate. It’s outrageously time-consuming, and fiddly. You can find out more here though if you are interested, and here are a bunch of programs. There are also paid services like dotsub around if that’s what you’re looking for.

Another option is to create sub-titles when you upload a video to YouTube, and then download and use that same file to caption videos on Facebook.

Creating an .SRT file using YouTube:

Step One: Upload your video, and head to the Video Manager page

On the video manager page, from the edit drop-down menu, pick subtitles/CC, pick your language when you’re prompted to, and set it as your default if that works for you.

Choose to add new subtitles, pick your language, and select how you’d like to get started on your subtitles. My preference is to use “transcribe and auto-sync” where you can just transcribe as fast or slow as you need to, while the video automatically pauses and plays to match your pace.

(This is as opposed to “create new subtitles”, which will ask you to add your captions one line/block at a time and then adjust when you would like them to show on the video.)

After you’ve bashed out some text, hit SET TIMINGS and let YouTube match up your text with your video. Once the process is done, press the “English” subtitles button to see and edit your captions. Edit the text on the left, and use the drag-and-drop bar below the video to move your captions forward or backward, or make them longer or shorter.

Once you’ve saved your subtitles, whenever you click back into them, you have the option to download them as an .SRT file to use anywhere else on the web.

You’ll notice when you upload a video into Facebook, that the captions tab has an upload button for your .SRT file. The only catch? You need to rename your file to match the Facebook naming conventions, that way Facebook knows which language you’ve used and can serve the captions to the right users.

Happy captioning!