Video subtitles are essential, not just an optional extra

We all know how video is taking over the Internet, and this is opening up lots of exciting possibilities. But sadly, closed captions (or subtitles) are often thought of as an optional extra, if they are thought of at all. The truth is very different.  Unless your video makes perfect sense without sound, you really must add captions.

Think of a deaf person, or someone without a working soundcard, or someone looking at their phone on a noisy bus. Adding captions instantly makes your videos more accessible to more people. And those people will thank you for it. In fact, if you work in the public sector, it is illegal to make services online inaccessible to disabled users..

How to add subtitles on YouTube and Facebook

There are several ways to add subtitles to a YouTube video. The most fiddly, but the way I recommend, is to create and upload an SRT file.  I say “fiddly”, but it is not difficult, and is worth the effort. You can make an SRT file using a text editor like Notepad.

If you have the patience to do it this way you will actually be saving time, because you can then reuse the same subtitles file elsewhere, such as for Facebook video captions. By the way, you are publishing your videos directly to Facebook as well as YouTube, aren’t you?

If you don’t add your own captions to YouTube, they have software that “listens” to the audio and this makes a pretty good attempt at adding captions to your videos.  But these automatic captions are nearly always littered with errors. Not only is this a problem for people who rely on captions, but inaccurate subtitles will also make you look unprofessional, or even a little foolish. For example, count the errors on this by Nestlé:

Going back to our friend sat on a noisy bus, Facebook has clearly given this person some thought too.  If you are using Facebook’s mobile app and a native video crops up in your newsfeed, subtitles will automatically be shown. That’s a simple, yet very smart move by Facebook.

On Facebook, video captions show automatically in the mobile newsfeed
Your Facebook video captions will show automatically in the mobile app newsfeed

In summary, video subtitles are not just something to add if you have time.  You should make time.

If you have anything to add to what I’ve said, please leave me a comment below, or talk to me on Twitter.

Update, 8 February 2016:

  • Thanks to Helen in the comments for pointing out that you can create your subtitles on YouTube and download an SRT file that you can use elsewhere
  • Sometimes you might find that subtitles don’t show up on Facebook when they should. There’s an option in the caption settings to set a default language. If you set the default language to English you should find this resolves the missing subtitles problem.

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I am a digital communications and marketing officer for Bradford Council and a musician.

5 thoughts on “Video subtitles are essential, not just an optional extra”

  1. I discovered this morning that you can download an SRT file of captions you have created from YouTube. So a quick way to do captions for YouTube and Facebook at once is to open up the automatically generated subtitles, edit them directly on YouTube, then download these corrected captions as an SRT file, and upload this file to Facebook [saved as]. Saves having to create an SRT file from scratch.

  2. Considering the internet is world-wide, and encompasses many languages, is there software somewhere that automatically translates captions into the end user’s preferred language?

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