Captions for Web Video and Social Media
Video is everywhere these days and appears in many different forms. It can be uploaded directly to different platforms or shared from other places. Many people watch video in a social media context without having the audio on, so if your video features someone speaking, it’s in your best interest to use captions so that the message of your video comes across loud and clear.
Each platform works slightly differently. This article is meant to help you understand your options on each of the major platforms. There are two keys to planning captions for your web video or social media content:
- Knowing what platform(s) you will be using to distribute your video
- Knowing how you want your captions to look
You have multiple options for captioning videos on most platforms.
- You can upload a caption file with your video. Most platforms support a few types of files, but we find .SRT and .SCC files to be the most common. There are two forms of .SRT file, a generic (Subrip) and a Google/YouTube variant, so it’s important to know what platform you’re going to use before making the .SRT. These files allow the viewer to turn captions on and off.
- You can open caption your video file, which will “burn in” the captions so that they are always on. The viewer won’t have the option to turn the captions off.
- You can design graphic captions to be a part of your video and either edit them into your video yourself or add them via the specific platform you’re using. These will also be “burned in” and always on.
- You can burn in your captions (using text only captions or using graphic captions) AND upload an .SRT or .SCC file. We’ll talk about why you might want to do this a bit later.
Here’s an example of what .SRT or .SCC file captions look like and where you turn them on and off in the YouTube player.
And here’s how they look in Vimeo. This specific video offers captions only in Portuguese.
Facebook allows content creators to upload .SRT files and again, the viewer has the option of turning the captions on and off.
Twitter supports .SRT files too but works a little differently. Viewers will see the captions automatically on iOS and Android devices when the sound is off or on the web by toggling the “CC” button. Captions are hidden by default when a video is expanded however, since that enables sound playback.
LinkedIn also supports .SRT files, however when scrolling through a LinkedIn feed, very few videos seem to have an active “CC” toggle button. That indicates that most videos are not captioned and/or that the videos themselves don’t feature a lot of important audio content.
Instagram does NOT support .SRT files, so if you want your Instagram video to have captions, you need to either burn in text captions or add graphic captions, either in the editing process or using the app.
Lots of the videos that end up trending on the web these days originate on Tik Tok. You can’t upload a separate caption file to Tik Tok, but you can upload videos with burned-in captions or add graphic captions in editing or via the app.
Many platforms are starting to give users the ability to create automatically generated captions and then edit those captions for accuracy. Instagram and Tik Tok have already rolled out this functionality.
Let’s talk a bit more about graphic captions. They can’t be turned on and off because they are composited into the video. Whether you create them during post production or add them using the tools in a specific social media platform’s app, creators have much greater latitude in how these types of captions look. Text can appear in a variety of styles and colors and creators have control over where the text is placed on screen. You don’t have to put every word of the soundtrack on screen either…you could simply use graphics to reinforce key words and phrases.
Here are a few examples from Facebook. Based on the aspect ratio of these videos, you can see that they likely originated on Instagram and have been reposted on Facebook. These “graphic captions” may have been generated within the Instagram app or they may have been added by an editor.
Here’s an important thing to remember: Closed captions can make a huge difference when it comes to your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Google and other search engines aren't able to watch a video, but they can obtain information from the text included in your closed captions. Text used in your closed captioning is indexed and increases your keyword depth. Closed captioning can also help to increase user engagement with your video content.
This means that you may want to create an .SRT file for a video EVEN IF you’ve open captioned your video or created fun graphic captions that will always be “on.” If your video is open captioned and someone manually turns the captions on in the player, they’ll see two sets of captions. Thankfully, not many people are likely to do this, and the benefits to your SEO of having a separate caption file for your video may make this tradeoff worth it.
A quick word about 508 compliance: “508 compliance” is shorthand for a law that requires federal government websites to be safe and accessible for people with disabilities. Captioning is an important part of 508 compliance, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hasn’t updated their guidance on it in quite some time. As a result, their guidance may not be clear on video streaming and other more current technologies. Being "508 compliant" means the captions include descriptors (such as "crickets chirping", "clapping sounds", "man whistles", etc.) in addition to the usual name identifiers and transcription of dialog. Captions can be made "508 compliant" for different social media platforms if required, but as a quick scroll through your Facebook feed or Instagram will show, many videos that appear on social media with some form of captioning don’t strictly meet the government’s definition of “508 compliance.”
When planning captions for your video, think about the experience you want your user to have. If your video is long, perhaps giving viewers the ability to turn captions on and off is really important. Determine whether your captions need to meet 508 compliance guidelines. If your video is short and promotional in nature, perhaps you want viewers to see big, bold graphic captions that make the subject of your video clear even without audio. Think about your audience, your goals and the different platforms where your video will appear and your caption plan will fall into place.
Henninger Media Services offers full service closed, open and graphic captioning. We’re the leading video production and post production company in the Mid-Atlantic region. Please contact us with questions or for help on a project.