The Secret to Social Media Video: Captions! Here’s How (And Why) to Add Them

hand holding phone on a subway

Social media streams are crowded, fast-moving, and crazy competitive. As social networks throttle back organic reach, being noticed is getting harder every day.

Your fans and followers are scrolling past posts, ruthlessly dismissing most headlines and images they see. But then they slow down … pause … there’s something moving in their stream … it’s a video!

Video Thumbnail

Social media video has stopping power. Movement is more visually prominent than still images. And images are more prominent than text.

This is part of the Law of Visual Hierarchy.

Laws of visual hierarchy

Remember 10 years ago when marketers suddenly realized that they needed to use images in their Facebook posts? Well, times have changed. Images aren’t enough anymore. Now you need to add video.

Captions are the Key to Social Media Video

Ok, so video is good, but not all videos get engagement. Why do some videos do so much better than others? The secret is captions.Video gets them to slow their scroll, but captions get them to engage.

Social media videos start out as silent. There’s a talking head, but no sound. It may be saying something funny or useful or provocative, but we have no idea — because we can’t hear it.

Enter captions.

There are actually four important reasons to add captions:

1. Social media engagement

Beyond colorful visuals, captions actually let viewers know what the video is about, giving them a reason to tap and turn on the sound and listen.

2. Accessibility

Some of your viewers are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

3. Environment

A viewer in an open office or in public can get the meaning without reaching for headphones

4. Foreign Language Speakers

Captions aren’t the same as subtitles, but still, if your language isn’t their first language, captions help overcome the challenges of accent and dialect.

How do you add captions to video?

There are tools that try to do it automatically, but as you can imagine, they make a lot of mistakes. You’ve probably seen captions with missed words, bad capitalization, and weird punctuation.Doing it by hand is best. But you need a simple tool and a little bit of time.

Here is my three-step approach to adding captions with my favorite tool and the host of this blog, TechSmith Camtasia.

Step One: Shoot the Video

Use basic best practices for lighting and sound, but don’t go rent a soundstage. This is social media, not Hollywood. I recommend a tripod, a window, and a decent microphone. Here’s what my office looks like in studio-mode.

Andy Crestodina Recording Setup

We’re making social media videos, so keep it short and sweet. No need for a long intro or pre-amble. Just jump in with the topic and get right to the point.

Pro Tip: While you have things set up, shoot a batch of three or four videos. Make the most of the time you spent on wardrobe, hair, and makeup …I don’t personally wear makeup, but I know people who do.

Step Two: Pop Open Your Video Editing Software

If you recorded directly into Camtasia, it’s going to open a file for you with your tracks set up. If you recorded on another camera or phone, move the file to your laptop and then open it in Camtasia.

You’ll want to start with some editing basics before you start adding captions:

  • Frame yourself in the video – Your head should be pretty big, filling around a third of the frame

Video frame dimensions

  • Trim the beginning / end, cut out the outtakes, and add some jump cuts
  • Mistakes are fine, since those cuts keep things interesting!
  • Filter out background noise or adjust the sound levels as needed
  • Add an intro/outro (If you don’t have one, Camtasia has an entire library to choose from)

Step Three – Add the Captions Track

Once you’ve cleaned up the file, you’re ready to add captions that make your social media videos engaging and accessible.

This is a social media video, so you probably didn’t start with a script and you don’t likely have a transcription. No problem.

Select the audio track, then from the main menu, click Modify > Captions > Add Captions. (or just right click on the audio track and choose “Add Caption” from that menu)

Add Captions

Now you’ll see a new track above the main timeline. It’s automagically broken up into short segments.

Step Four – Type the captions for each segment

Next click on the first segment, which will highlight it in purple and bring up the captions editor above.

Now just type in the caption for this segment. Camtasia will play that segment for you, so you can listen to the audio as you type. Finished with the first? Move on to the next segment and type in the next caption.

edit captions

Tedious? Not really. Social videos are usually short, so adding captions might take 5 to 10 minutes at most. Plus you get total control over timing, punctuation, fonts and capitalization.

ProTip! Add emojis to your captions. That automatic captioning app on your phone can’t do that!

Step Five – Change the Captions Font Size

Before you wrap this up, pump up the size of the text in your captions. Some of your visitors will be on small screens.

  • Click on the gear to the left of the caption track to see the captions menu.
  • Choose Caption Settings.
  • In the Caption Settings window (at the top of the screen) increase the size of the captions. I recommend a font size of 55 or so to make sure your captions are legible in mobile social streams.

caption settings

Step Six – Save, Export and Publish

You’re all set. Export the video to your laptop, upload it to a social network, then lovingly write a post to go with it using every trick in the social media post checklist: numbers, hashtags, mentions and special characters! Give it all you’ve got.

social mention

Bonus Step! Track traffic from the social post in Analytics

Of course, you’ll see the engagement metrics (likes, comments, shares) right there in the social channel. But to measure traffic from this social post to your website, you’ll need to add UTM Tracking Code to any links in the social post that point back to you.

Joel Don created a nice UTM Builder that make adding these campaign tracking codes easy.

utm parameters

If you added these tracking codes, traffic from this social post will appear in your Google Analytics campaign reports. It might look something like this…

google analytics conversions

Don’t be surprised if this post gets way more traction than a typical social media post. And a lot more traffic than a typical social media video. You just learned the secret to social video stopping power: captions.

That’s a wrap!

Marketers going big are doing better. And the one way to go bigger than anyone else is to upgrade your content to maximum power. That’s social media video.

Social media videos are so engaging that the networks are pushing them way to the top of social streams. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn all want us to do more in this all-powerful format. It wins in the algorithms and in wins for attention.

As a social media marketer, video is your most powerful tool.

So rather than just post a headline and link to your article, make a tiny commercial of you introducing your article to your followers.

Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media. He's an international top-rated keynote speaker and the author of Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Guide to Content Marketing. You can find Andy on LinkedIn and Twitter. TechSmith is thrilled to work with talented guest bloggers to bring valuable and interesting content to readers. Have a topic suggestion? Tweet us @TechSmith!

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