Tips for Captioning & Subtitling Social Media Videos


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Start with this article, which lists the five things you must know to successfully caption and subtitle your social media videos.

Why and How to Add Subtitles to Social Media Videos

Captions and subtitles are crucial to a social media video strategy

You’ve probably heard this before–about 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound. That means that captioning and subtitling these videos is crucial to their success on this social media platform, and on just about any other. And social media content has its own set of unique video localization challenges. What to do?

The above statistic comes from Digiday, an online portal for digital media, marketing, and advertising professionals, and it has been widely quoted within the online marketing industry. It makes sense intuitively since many people check their social media feeds on public transportation, in restaurants, at work, or in other situations where the audio would be intrusive. However,

According to Facebook Business, in 2016, 41% of videos on their platform don’t make sense without the sound, which is why it’s not surprising that videos with captions are watched 12% longer. And more and more video content is migrating to social media–both legacy content that’s getting repurposed, and new content created just for this growing audience. All these videos need captions and subtitles, and here’s what you need to know to get started on them.

1. Always caption your source videos

Captioning makes videos accessible to members of your audience who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. It increases SEO on some platforms. And again, it’s crucial to video engagement in about half of the viewing scenarios.

In fact, most video hosting sites (including YouTube and Facebook) have speech-to-text auto-captioning features that users can trigger–and which sometimes don’t have great results, especially with brand and proprietary names. Thus, it’s crucial to source captions from a professional vendor like JBI Studios, to integrate with your video upload.

2. Plan for text-heavy videos–even ones without voice-over

Social media videos are so prevalent, and the need for them to work without sound is so predominant, that a specific text-heavy video has become common in the last three years. You’ve probably seen them from publishers like UNILADLADbibleNowThisMicPopsugar, or even more traditional publishers like the New York TimesCNN, or The Atlantic, who are all aggressively targeting social media users.

These kinds of videos are hard to subtitle for two reasons. First, many of them don’t have any voice-over, so there’s really nothing to caption or subtitle–localizing relies on on-screen titles replacement. This may even be less cost-effective if the titles are design-heavy. Second, videos with titles that heavily mirror the VO may end up with too much text on-screen, making them hard-to-watch.

So, what do you do? Be aware that these videos have different needs and create a comprehensive multimedia localization plan for them. Have a video with titles that mirror the voice-over? Decide early on whether you’ll replace them with full design elements, or provide a simplified text track. Or, you could create videos with simpler titles for the localized versions to be more cost-effective. Whatever you do, make sure you respond to the video’s specific localization needs.

3. Keep translations succinct

This is a good tip for any subtitle’s translation, but especially for social media videos. Remember that the videos are seen on phones and tablets, with much smaller fonts. Stick to the character limits assiduously and go shorter if possible. This is difficult for Romance languages especially –

You’ll run into this issue with French and Spanish subtitling projects, for example. But readability will be crucial to video engagement.

4. Burn subs in for hard-to-read character sets

Non-Latin languages may be even more difficult to read–think of Arabic or Japanese subtitles, or any other right-to-left or double-byte character set. For these languages, consider open subs (burning the text to video), so you have more control over font size and placement. This will require a stand-alone video for each language audience, so work closely with your international marketing team on this decision.

5. Consider subtitles for the deaf-and-hearing impaired

This is a relatively recent usability standard, but subtitles for the deaf-and-hearing impaired is a great deliverable for social media videos. Why? Because SDH makes videos accessible in a way that doesn’t require any of the audio to play–perfect for a “no-audio” foreign-language environment. Look at this option when localizing for social media.

6. Plan localization workflows during the initial production

Ultimately, remember that your captions and subs have to do three things–provide accessibility to the deaf-and-hearing impaired, provide translations to foreign-language audiences, and make the videos accessible in no-audio environments. And remember that videos may have already been created with the no-audio environment in mind, so that the caption or subtitle process will have to be amended to avoid over-translation, or even just too much text on the screen. For this reason, it’s imperative to discuss the localization workflow while the source videos are developed by your marketing team. This is a best practice but with social media, planning is crucial to keeping projects on budget and timeline and maximizing the videos’ reach across multiple platforms.

Common Challenges Faced When Captioning/Subtitling

One area in which translators are most visible within the localization industry is captioning / subtitling. This is in part driven by the global nature of films. Also, there is a desire of people around the world to enjoy both films and television series in languages spoken in countries other than their native ones. As there are constantly new productions being produced around the world, many of which are translated into a variety of different languages, it is probable that most translators will translate subtitles at some point. However, translating subtitles has unique challenges, despite the language usually not being as technically difficult as what many translators might be used to.

  • Tone/register: In films and television shows, the dialog tends to be informal, rather than formaltechnical language. While this may make translating subtitles seem easier, it isn’t necessarily so.
  • Cultural adaptation/localization: As mentioned above, the dialog also usually contains a lot of region-specific slang, idioms, and cultural references, which can make it a real headache to localize. However, if the translator has specific knowledge regarding the regionalisms and culture and of the country or region where the film was produced, they will have a competitive edge. For example, a Spanish to English translator with a very strong knowledge of Mexican culture and informal language, but who has very little knowledge of these aspects regarding other Spanish-speaking countries, will be able to translate a Mexican film much better than he or she could do with one from another country, such as Spain or Argentina.
  • Length: Another challenge to translating subtitles is keeping each subtitle short enough to comfortably fit on the screen so that it may be read easily and quickly by viewers. In order to do this, translators should be aware of limitations regarding the number of characters appropriate for each line of subtitles and do their best to adhere to them. This often means opting for shorter words or simpler language in order to keep the character count down.
  • Style: Also, when translating subtitles, an extra effort should be made to not include any literal translations. A literal style of translation will confuse the audience and will stand out as poor writing, which can greatly impair the viewing experience. This also includes making the appropriate conversions of things like weight, length, and time based on the region and language of the intended audience. Language in subtitles should have a natural flow and be easy to read so that the viewer does not have to divert focus from the movie or TV show they are watching, just to try to understand the subtitles. A literal translation of subtitles, or one which does not flow naturally, can turn a fantastic movie into an experience that is much less enjoyable.
  • One of the areas in which translators are most active within the localization industry is subtitling. Used in a medium such as films, TV, and training videos, to healthcare and medical research, subtitling can be a complex service to get right. Here are some reasons why:
    • This factor can be particularly challenging for subtitles, regardless of whether you’re translating them or not. Even relatively basic conversations can be hard to keep up with when there are several speakers at once. Not only do you need to think about screen space and pacing, but you also have to make sure the corresponding text is visible as people are speaking and that readers can finish reading each subtitle before the next appears. Things get even more tricky when you have to deal with fast-paced conversations, arguments, or debates between half a dozen people.

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