No matter where a video is posted, whether it’s on a website or social media, it should be captioned so that Deaf and hard-of-hearing users can access and enjoy the content.
Additionally, captions can provide a better experience for a viewer with:
Captions are also helpful if:
Captioning is also a good idea if you want to improve your marketing efforts. According to a 2019 study from Verizon Media and Publicis Media, 69% of people watch videos without sound in public places, and Facebook found that 85% of its users watch or begin watching videos with the sound off.
Captions are sometimes referred to as subtitles, but subtitles are actually language-specific captions intended for viewers who do not understand and/or speak the language being spoken in the media.
Subtitles can be closed or open depending on the production of the video, but it's important to note that subtitles do not include auditory information like music descriptions or sound effects because their primary function is the translation of language. Try to think of subtitles as a subcategory of captions.
There are two types of captions, closed and open. Closed captions can be toggled on and off based on the preferences of the viewer. They can also be moved and resized. Closed captions are a common feature on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok all have varying degrees of closed captioning capabilities for their video features.
An easy and free way to add closed captions to a video is through YouTube. Anyone with a Google account can create a YouTube channel for free. Even if you don’t intend on posting videos to your channel, it’s handy to have one if you want to caption a video.
To caption a video using YouTube:
Another advantage to using YouTube to create your closed captions is that you can download your captions. To download your captions file from YouTube:
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all accept SRT subrip files to caption videos that you upload directly to the platforms. When uploading captions to Facebook, make sure to follow the correct naming convention for your file.
Some platforms will tout their ability to add auto-captions to your videos, but much like automatic alt text, auto-captions aren’t usually very good and should not be used for your final captions. Edit any auto-captions whenever possible.
YouTube and Facebook also allow you to write and sync your closed captions directly on the platforms. If you choose that option, just make sure to break up your captions at natural language breaks and allow time to read them.
You should also identify when a new speaker starts talking if you have more than one person speaking on or off camera and caption any contextually important sounds like a phone ringing or someone knocking on a door. Jeep took that last tip to the creative extreme for its 2022 Super Bowl commercial. Watch the below video with the captions on.
Open captions are permanently embedded into a video during post-production and always visible. They cannot be turned off, moved, or resized by a viewer.
You’ll typically see open captions on a video when closed captions aren’t available. Some platforms still don’t offer captioning for all their features or users yet. TikTok started rolling out a closed captioning tool in April 2021 for select languages after Deaf and disabled users repeatedly pointed out that the app was inaccessible for them.
Instagram followed shortly after in May 2021 with a captions sticker for Stories that adds open captions to your videos, and it later rolled out to Reels as well. But there’s still no in-app captioning option for basic feed videos that creators can edit, only auto-captions, so you’ll need to rely on external captioning apps if you want your captions to be accurate.
There are several great mobile apps available for creating open captions including:
All these apps make it easy and inexpensive to add open captions to your videos, and some of them even allow you to download your finished captions as an SRT file.
If you’re trying to decide between using closed or open captions, choose closed. They offer a more customizable experience for viewers in terms of visibility, position, and size, so they are the preferred option. Open captions should really only be used when closed captioning isn’t available.