Content Creation

Video Marketing: Should I add Subtitles to Facebook Videos?


Published: September 27, 2017 (Updated: February 28, 2020)

Social media content is extremely effective at advertising, brand awareness, and even customer service, among other uses. Chief among the many social media content strategies is Facebook videos. However, making a campaign shine takes more than just a great video. In many cases, it helps to also add closed captions or subtitles, improving their accessibility.

There are a few challenges regarding Facebook video subtitles worth considering before you add it to your content team’s to-do list, but overall it’s a worthwhile task. Take a look at the many benefits and caveats of adding subtitles below. We’ll also cover how to actually add captions to a Facebook video quickly and efficiently, in case you’re considering this tactic for a large repertoire of videos.

The Raw Numbers

Imagine you’re on a crowded bus and you’re trying to watch a video. You don’t want to bother other people on the bus, so you turn the audio way down to near mute. However, you can no longer hear what the people in the video are saying. Enter: subtitles. What’s more, all Facebook videos that autoplay, such as in video ads, start muted and have to have their sound turned on manually by the viewer. With subtitles, you can still easily catch their attention. This is why it’s better to invest in engaging visuals and subtitles, rather than basing your video’s first few seconds on sound.

But do these extra steps to accommodate more viewers pay off? In many cases, yes, due to the hordes of people using Facebook and watching videos. As of this year, 74% of traffic is captured through online video. 100 million hours of video content are watched on Facebook every day, and that number is only growing. The more people who notice your video, and the more who can watch it the way they prefer, the better.

Consider Your Audience

One of the most obvious reasons to add subtitles to your Facebook videos is if you’re doing business internationally, and you know that many viewers don’t understand English as well as another language. For example, let’s say your business sells artisan candles of far-east fragrances such as lemongrass. The novelty could make them appealing in western nations, but the familiarity of the scents could also make them big in countries like China, Thailand, etc. Make subtitles for the languages that most represent your customer base and you’ll give your business more international video marketing reach.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as adding closed captions for every single country among your customer base, especially if that turns into dozens of languages. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons to not add subtitles, or more realistically, to temper your investment in them.

It Takes Work

wall of Welcome translated into many languages

Image via Flickr by quinn.anya

If you’ve ever watched a film with a poor quality English translation in the subtitles, you know that it can ruin the experience. Every language is different and has complicated rules about grammar, phrasing, and cultural norms that only a native speaker could get right. The more languages you have to make subtitles for, the more expensive and time-consuming each video becomes.

Consider your video content strategy and the budget you’re willing to spend to keep your production at the same rate. Factor in the cost of each language’s subtitles along with the projected improved sales, and you should see a single foreign language that’s most worth accommodating. If that turns out to work very well and your sales rise accordingly, then consider the next biggest language to represent. The key is to not dive in too fast and try to make subtitles for everyone. Now, with all that said, let’s look at the proper, time-efficient way to actually add subtitles.

Creating and Uploading SRT Files

Videos use text files called SRT, named for the file suffix, to contain the data on subtitles. Each SRT file is meant to represent the text of a single language, so you’ll need to make one for each language beyond English that you want to use. The text in each file dictates what text to display at certain times, how long to display it, and everything else needed.

Creating SRT files is quite easy, and even new members of a content marketing team can figure it out quickly. If you also upload videos to YouTube, they have an especially easy system to create and save SRT files to use somewhere else, such as on Facebook. When you want to add or remove any SRT files on a video, just go to the same place you’d adjust the name, tags, and other things.

Final Tips

When working with subtitles, particularly when building SRTs, you’ll find it very easy to do special tricks, such as adding little notes about words, phrases, or ideas that aren’t common knowledge along the top of the screen. Try to consider, for example, cultural ideas that will need a brief explanation to those from other cultures. Those who don’t speak English will need help with idioms like “kill two birds with one stone”. Alternatively, simplify the meaning and type the literal message of your video’s content, or get help from a native-speaking marketer who can translate your wordplay.

As one last tip: make sure you spend the money on a native translation of your video for whatever foreign languages you want. Do not type your video script into Google Translate and make subtitles out of the words it spits out, because it’s almost guaranteed to come out awkward. A poor translation will turn out more costly than a good one due to lost sales.

Remember: autoplay videos, the most common kind in Facebook advertising right now, have to catch your audience’s attention by sight rather than sound. You have to inspire them to watch and possibly turn the sound on. Video marketing, interactive media, and other advanced audio-visual content are all about killing distractions and riveting passersby to your message, and subtitles help draw a person’s eye.

Video is a revolutionary way to advertise and build a brand because it’s the most attractive form of shareable content. Make a great video and your audience will market it for you, for free, by sharing it with their friends and family. If your videos are awesome, then give them the exposure they deserve, at the very least with English subtitles. From there, consider your international reach and expand into other closed captions if it seems suitable to your business.


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