Video, especially on social media platforms, is no longer optional. If you’re in the mood to thank someone for that shift, you can send your note to Facebook. Facebook began introducing their auto-play feature to the wide, wide world in 2013, and by 2014 every Facebook user had access. Facebook simultaneously made changes to their algorithm to preference videos because they wanted more users to upload their own videos. And it worked. By 2015 most social media sites had embraced auto-play video; and that made video a much bigger part of the marketing world. But auto-play also brought to the forefront an issue we as content creators should have been thinking about all along: closed captioning.
Until July of 2017, auto-play video on Facebook was muted by default. Unless a video had captions a large portion of the content could be (and often was) lost. Even now that the setting has changed, a large portion of your audience will be watching video without sound (Google results for “mute Facebook video”- 22,600,000). And that’s the first reason captions are so important:
Reason #1 – Engagement
Captions improve engagement levels on video content, period. Turns out, captions can improve engagement by a lot – some companies have seen an immediate lift. Captions help viewers digest and understand the content they’re watching; they clarify dialogue (in the case of technical terminology, an accent or dialect shift, or poor audio quality) and increase viewer comprehension. Captioning opens opportunities for your audience to watch a video - it’s much easier to watch a video on public transit or in an open plan office if sound is not required. In 2016, 85% of the video content on Facebook was watched without sound.
Engagement levels, though, aren’t possible without viewers and captions can help you reach a much wider audience. That brings us to…
Reason #2 – Accessibility
To make online video fully accessible to the widest audience, videos need closed captioning. A transcript is a solid start, and will help with the SEO of your video, but to fully comply with ADA standards videos need both captions and video description. This post from 3PlayMedia explains better than I ever could. But it’s not just about avoiding a lawsuit – captioning your video increases the reach of your content. Captions allow people in public to watch your video without disturbing the people around them.
Along with subtitles, captions can also help your video reach a global audience. Captions aren’t just the ethical choice, they’re a smart business decision, as revealed by....
Reason #3 – ROI
Captions increase the watch time on your videos (because, as noted above, viewers are more likely to engage with a video they like, and viewers like captions.) Watch Time is one of the metrics that Google and YouTube use to evaluate whether a piece of video content is high quality – so important, in fact, that it’s given pride of place in the YouTube Analytics Overview. One thing that can quickly boost your watch times? You guessed it. Captions. Online publishers have conducted trials to prove it: captioning video can lead to a 40% increase in video viewing, and viewers are 80% more likely to watch a video to completion when closed captioning is available.
For a deeper dive into the Watch Time algorithm (because NOTHING CAN BE SIMPLE) I highly recommend this piece by Matt Gielen.
As a cherry on top of the “you should do this” sundae, both Facebook and YouTube have provided tools to help content creators pull this off. They’re not without their drawbacks, but for those just getting started with captions they can provide an intuitive way to accomplish the task. And given the trend in the market, video is a good jumping off point to consider the accessibility of your website as a whole, which is something Hedgehog can help with.