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Do Subtitles Improve Social Video Performance?

Every video you post should have subtitles and/or closed captions. The number 1 reason for this is that they make your content accessible to people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (HoH). But there are more benefits to consider.

In addition to making your content accessible to your entire audience, adding subtitles and/or captions can make your content more appealing to people who simply don’t like watching videos with their sound on.

What Are Subtitles and Closed Captions and Why Do They Matter?

Closed captioning is the process of converting sound to text. Closed captions are crucial because, without them, your video content is not accessible to people with diverse aural abilities. They also make concentrating on the video’s content easier for people with learning disabilities or attention deficits.

Closed captions are created by transcribing the text and dividing it into caption frames, then time-coding the frames to line up with the audio in your video. These captions can be turned on and off by the viewer. Open captions serve the same purpose but are burned into the video and can’t be turned on or off.

Subtitles transcribe words spoken in the video and are designed to help people who can hear the audio but can’t understand the language. This is why closed captions include sounds and speaker IDs– elements typically left out of subtitles.

Benefits of Adding Subtitles to Social Media Videos

  • Accessibility: Make your content more accessible to people who are Deaf, HoH, or have a learning disability.
  • Language inclusivity: Help viewers who don’t speak your language consume your content.
  • Attention: Snag and keep the attention of multi-taskers and viewers who prefer to browse social media sound-off.
  • Retention: There’s a reason your elementary school teacher had you follow along while they read material out loud. Reading and listening to content out loud stimulates multiple learning pathways, promoting retention in the process. If you want your audience to remember what you’re saying, adding subtitles can help.
  • SEO: When captions are uploaded as an .srt file, they can provide search engines with more material to index.
  • Engagement, views, and watch time: In addition to broadening your audience and increasing views, subtitles promote engagement and extend watch time by adding dimension and movement to your videos.

What are Subtitles On Social?

Most social media platforms that offer captioning abilities do so in the form of automatic subtitles. The viewer can’t turn them on or off and they’re typically limited to spoken words, which means they don’t transcribe nonverbal sounds or include speaker IDs.

The timeline below shows when each social media platform introduced captioning capabilities:

  • YouTube: Introduced automatic closed captioning back in 2009 and added the ability for content creators to crowdsource captions in 2010.
  • Facebook: Introduced automatic video captioning in 2016.
  • Instagram: Introduced automatic subtitles for videos in 2020.
  • LinkedIn: Introduced the ability to add subtitles to videos in 2020.
  • TikTok: Introduced auto-captions for videos in 2021. Users can turn these captions on or off by opening the share panel, tapping the “Captions” button, and setting captions to “Off”.
  • X (Formerly Twitter): Introduced the ability to add closed captions for videos in 2022. As long as you embed captions in your video, viewers will be able to toggle them on and off with the “CC” button.

How to Add Subtitles On Social Media Videos

  • YouTube: While YouTube encourages creators to add professional captions, they automatically generate captions for every video. To edit your auto-generated captions or add new ones, click “Subtitles'' in the left-hand menu, then select the video you want to edit. Click the three dots next to the subtitles you want to edit, then review automatic captions and make the necessary changes. To add your own captions, just select “Upload file” after navigating to the right video on the “Subtitles” page.
  • Facebook: Captions are automatically generated when you upload a video to Facebook. You can adjust your settings to require your caption review before they go live.
  • Instagram: Creators can add captions before or after sharing a Reel by opening their “Advanced Settings”, scrolling to “Accessibility”, and togging the “Show Captions” option to the on position.
  • LinkedIn: For LinkedIn, you have to manually upload a SubRip Subtitle (SRT) file when you upload your video. When you go to share a video, click the “Edit” button in the top right corner to view your video’s settings, then click “Select Caption” to attach your SRT file.
  • TikTok: Select auto captions in the editing page after you upload or record your video. You can edit the text of your captions once they’re generated.
  • X (Formerly Twitter): When you go to share your video, add closed captions by clicking the “Upload caption file (.srt)” right below your video.

Creator Examples

Davis adds fun-colored subtitles to all his TikToks. Notice how he hooks his audience by including a snippet of dialogue in the cover video for each video.

Rachel Kwon bridges the gap between her English and Korean-speaking audience members with bilingual captions:

Jessica Braun adds colorful captions when sharing quick tips and tutorials on Facebook Reels:

Takeaways: Form Your Subtitle Strategy

Now’s the time to start being intentional about the way you caption your video content. The last thing you want is to spend so much time and effort pushing your content out to the world, only to leave it inaccessible to so many viewers.

If you use auto-captioning, you may forego the opportunity to customize the aesthetic of your subtitles on some platforms. Auto-captions can also be inaccurate. But if you only have time to turn on the auto-captioning features, your audience will appreciate having that option!

If you choose to burn subtitles into your video instead, then try to match your audio. You can cut out filler words, but some viewers find subtitles distracting when they stray too far from the audio script.

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Danielle Townsley

Danielle is the Social Media Manager at PLANOLY. She stays in the know of the latest industry trends and is always finding ways to create engaging and educational content for PLANOLY’s social platforms.

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