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Why Video Captions on Social Media Help Boston Survive the T

  • a Red Line train from Boston's subway system pictured above ground on the Longfellow Bridge

    Video footage of a Red Line train operating as normal during rush hour… (just kidding).

    Boston residents have a lot to cherish about our fair city. Those classic New England falls, legendary sports teams, a Dunkin Donuts on every block, and of course, our charmingly unpredictable subway system — the T.

    Considering parts of the T run through the oldest subway tunnels in the country, it is astonishing that most of the time things run pretty smoothly. But, then there’s the occasional maintenance issue that leaves you trapped in a subterranean tunnel on the Red Line for 30 minutes somewhere between Park Street and Harvard wondering if you’ll ever see the sun again.

    In either case, when you inevitably pull out your phone and go on social media don’t you feel relieved when you run into videos with captions?

    a 2 second gif of Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting looking bored on a red line train
    Will Hunting’s stuck at Charles MGH and his phone just died. It’s not your fault, Will.

    Smartphone + Other People Around = No Sound, No Way

    If something like a Survivor’s Guide For Riding Public Transportation was ever published, closed captions would be listed on the first page.

    Outside the comfort of ones’s own home, nobody really uses the sound on their phone and marketers know this. That’s why silent video is currently dominating social media and why 74% of people surveyed see their organizations’ captioning needs increasing next year.

    Closed captions are just something one comes to expect when watching social video on their phone these days. When they’re missing I feel pretty disappointed — I’ve been conditioned by GIFs not to need sound to enjoy video.

    But What about Headphones?

    Most of the time, yes, of course, I have my headphones on me. That’s not what matters, though.

    When I have headphones in my phone, it’s because I’m listening to music. I rarely go on social media when this is the case and I never interrupt a song to watch a video (one exception: unless it’s a video of this evil seagull laughing). That’s just me.

    When I am aimlessly scrolling through Facebook I probably don’t have my headphones in. It’s actually very uncommon for people to fish their buds out of their pocket to watch social video. In fact, 85% of all Facebook videos are watched without sound. Hence, the cultural shift towards more videos featuring captions, silence, and autoplay without audio.

    a short gif of Abe Simpson walking into a building, hanging up his hat, walking around in a circle, grabbing his hat, putting it back on his head, and then leaving all in one smooth motion
    “Oh, look a video. No captions available? Don’t care, bye!”

    Videos with Captions Get More View Time

    Adding captions to your video before publishing to social media tells viewers, “You’re not missing anything if you don’t turn on the sound, so you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

    Part of the reason someone might skip over your video in their news feed could be the realization that no captions are there to tell them what it’s about, so they immediately lose interest. Or, the interest never had a chance to develop in the first place without a visual invitation.

    Captions incentivize the user to watch a video by allowing them to decide if they want to hear the audio or not. The likelihood of someone watching a video on their news feed increases significantly when it has captions — even for advertisements.

    When you think about it, captions are just a really good investment in your video marketing strategy.

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