News for Authors

Creating Subtitles for Your Digital Video

by Neda Dallal|August, 2020

Social media videos with subtitles often receive high engagement, and can be a great way to make sure your message is received by everyone. Read on for a step-by-step process for adding subtitles to your digital video.

Subtitles are text that displays on top of a video, usually in the lower third of the screen, showing the words that are being spoken. Subtitles come in many shapes, forms, colors, and sizes, but are recently most notable for being used in native Facebook videos. Since native Facebook videos play automatically with the audio muted in newsfeeds—and since about 85 percent of videos on Facebook are watched without sound—subtitles have become a popular way to capture the attention of Facebook users and to convey the content of the video without using audio. Adding subtitles can also be an excellent way to reach people with disabilities, especially those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

If you’re creating short, one-off videos, we recommend using a captioning app on your phone. Clipomatic is a great seamless option for platforms like Instagram Stories. In general, though, creating subtitles for videos on platforms like IGTV involves the use of video editing software, and can be pretty advanced and time-consuming unless you have access to and are already skilled at using programs like FinalCut Pro or Adobe Premier. So for a shorter video, try out those captioning tools; otherwise, we’ll look at the more in-depth process of creating subtitles for Facebook and YouTube.

There are two basic steps to creating subtitles:


1) Transcribe Your Video

It’s important to note that while some progress has been made in “autonomous transcribing” in the past ten years, there is currently no autonomous method (not YouTube, not Facebook, not another vendor) that will get subtitles 100 percent right. The best tools out there will usually have somewhere around 60 to 70 percent accuracy and need a human to manually adjust the rest. For shorter videos, rather than dealing with the errors that can crop up with autonomous transcription, it’s often easiest to have a human do all of it. There are even tools available (like from YouTube, for instance) that make the human transcription process a bit easier.


2) Associate the Text with Your Video

Once you have your text, create a subtitles file (.SRT) and upload it as metadata for your video. This can be done with any text-editing program (see this link for how), but is probably easiest to handle by using YouTube’s transcription/subtitling tools (more information on this below). You are able to create a very simple file that tells the video player (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) what text to display and when. Facebook has its own automatic captions generator, but we’ve found YouTube’s to be easier to use. Including subtitles on YouTube videos can actually help in the search discoverability of your video on the platform!

We recommend using YouTube’s transcription/subtitles tool to create your SRT file—even if you plan to use that SRT file for a video being uploaded natively to Facebook. Plan on having a transcript of your video ready when you begin the captioning process in YouTube.


Using YouTube’s Transcription Subtitles Tool to Create an SRT File for Both YouTube and Facebook

1) Upload the video to YouTube. Keep it private/unlisted so no one can see it.

2) Find your video in your YouTube channel’s Video Manager. Click on “Subtitles & Closed Captioning (CC).”

3) Click “Edit” and “Subtitles/CC” and select “English.”

4) Select “Transcribe and auto-sync.” Then copy and paste the transcript into the text box.

6) When done, click “Set timings.”

7) As previously noted, the result will not be 100 percent perfect, so play around with the timing/formatting as needed. Make sure you review timing and placement of text for accuracy.

8) Click “Publish.”

9) Find the subtitles you just created on the Subtitles & CC tab again, which should now be called “English” (NOT the automatic version). Click on these to view.

10) Click on “Actions > Download .srt,” which will open up a new browser tab with the .srt text.

11) Go to “Save Page as…” and name file with this convention: [file name]

12) You now have an .srt file that you can upload with the same video file when you are posting on Facebook. Note that the timing will not match if you use a video that’s even slightly different, so it’s important to use the exact video file you originally uploaded to YouTube.

13) If you have no use for the video on YouTube and only want it to appear on Facebook, you can delete it from YouTube at this point.

For more information and visuals regarding YouTube captioning, click here.


By creating subtitles for your video, you can ensure better engagement for your message. Boosting your engagement in this way can also be hugely beneficial in growing your online presence, which will help with the ultimate goal of getting the word out to readers about your books!



Neda Dallal is Senior Associate, Publishing Development and Author Platforms at Penguin Random House.