Making Social Media Content Accessible

Hard-coding or "burning" subtitles onto a video.

by Carolyn Scott | 6th September 2019

Subtitling videos shouldn’t be something you do when you have time or resources; you should always subtitle video content.

For starters, it makes your content accessible. Failing to provide subtitling limits access to your content for D/deaf people. That should be reason enough to add subtitles, but, if you need some extra persuasion, consider how your content is viewed. 

Video content is exceptionally powerful on social media: 

            • One-third of online activity is spent watching video.
            • 64% of consumers say that watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a purchasing decision.
            • 59% of executives agree that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they are more likely to choose video.
            • Every second, a million minutes (17,000 hours) of video content will cross global IP networks by 2021. (Source) 


Publishers say that around 85% of Facebook videos are watched in silence. 

How often do you scroll through your Facebook or Twitter feed and stop while a video auto-plays? And how often do you actually activate the audio? For most people, the answer to that last question is very, very rarely. 

Adding subtitles is a necessary step for creating accessible content, but it’ll also increase your views and interactions. 

Perhaps one of the most common requests I have for advice on social media content production is how to “hard-code” subtitles on to videos. So here’s how I do it! 


First, you need to understand a little more about subtitles. Subtitles can be “hard-coded” or “soft-coded”

Hard-coded - the subtitles are “burnt” onto the video. They can’t be switched off, but will appear on any platform. This is the standard for Twitter, in fact it’s currently the only way to add subtitles to Twitter. 

Soft-coded - the standard for broadcasting: subtitles can be switched off and on. This works with platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but not all platforms. Facebook will automatically activate soft-coded subtitles if the user does not have sound activated but will then remove them when sound is activated. 


To soft-code subtitles you create a subtitle file and then upload that file to the platform as a separate file to the video. [Find out more about uploading soft-coded subtiltes to Facebook here - be careful with the section on naming conventions, it's unnecessarily irritating and complicated]

To hard-code, you still create a subtitle file, but then use video editing software to burn the subtitles onto the video. 

I'm going to add a disclaimer here: when you read through the following it's going to seem like a total faff to get through this process. The first time you do it, it probably will be. But as soon as you get the hang of the process it's by far the simplest way to add good quality subtitles to your videos without spending a fortune. Also, this process is based on using a desktop/laptop computer. There are numerous iOS apps out there that can help with this but I'd recommend carefully reading all the reviews and functionality before investing in one.

Creating a subtitle file: 

A subtitle file is basically a text document which has times listed for each sentence, but it must follow a specific format. 

There are numerous ways to create a subtitle file, the method I find easiest and most effective is to use YouTube. 

Upload your video to YouTube but make sure to mark it as Private (unless, of course, you do want your video live on your YouTube channel - the point here is, it doesn’t have to be). 

Once the video has been uploaded and processed enter YouTube Studio. Annoyingly, YouTube has yet to make captioning/subtitling an easy to access feature in their new Studio, so you have to access “Creator Studio Classic” at the bottom left of the screen. 

Once you’re in the Classic Studio, beside your video you’ll see an Edit button and a drop-down menu (the arrow). From this menu select “Subtitles/CC”.

If your video has been on YouTube for a while it will have automatically generated subtitles - if you want to use these make sure you edit them and proof-read them! There will be errors (albeit often rather hilarious ones). 

I usually opt to always just create subtitles from scratch. Select “Add new subtitles” then select your language, then “Transcribe and auto-sync”. 

Now you have access to one of my favourite YouTube features. Your video will open with a text box to the side, as it plays you can type in what is being said. The video will auto-pause when you type. As someone who spent my student days working as an administrator and having to use a foot pedal to control and audio file while transcribing - this feature is just wonderful! 

Once you’re done typing (and proofreading and checking for typos) hit “set-timings”. 

You’ll need to leave YouTube for a few minutes (longer for longer videos) to allow it to set all the timings and cut your text up into subtitle chunks. 

It’s worth noting a few little quirks that might appear at this stage. Sometimes you’ll refresh your page having left it setting timings only to find that your subtitles still say they are drafts. Usually, you can click on them and hit edit then hit save again and your problem should be solved. 

Another quirk is that often you’ll go back into your subtitle file after timings are set and be unable to download the file you need (it won't give you multiple file format options under download), again just edit and save and refresh and you should be good. 

Once timings are set, click on your subtitles and you’ll see them all separated and timed. On the left above the text there should be a drop-down menu with a button saying “Actions”. 

From here you can download the subtitle file you need depending on the software you are using to burn your subtitles onto the video. I almost always use a .srt file. If you notice a typo in your subtitles once you've added them to your video you can simply open the .srt file in a text editor and make the change.

But now you need to actually hard-code the subtitles onto your video.

This is where many people get stuck. Things have progressed a lot since I first ventured into adding subtitles and now many video editing platforms will give you the option of adding a subtitle file within the editor then exporting them hard-coded. Some still don’t though. (Just google the method for your specific video editor). 

I use a wonderful little piece of software called Submerge. It costs £18.99 and is well worth the money. All you need to do now is import your video, import your subtitle file, sort out the settings (i.e. size, font, colour of subtitles) and you can also export to various video formats (i.e. mp4 for Twitter!) 

Note, if you’re going to all this effort please, please don’t make your subtitles one colour on a transparent background - it’s pointless. As soon as you put that over a video it’ll get lost. Use a block colour background. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing a social video with utterly pointless subtitles (Channel 4 and BBC are very guilty of this…). The same goes for picking stupid fonts, or making your subtitles too small. Subtitles aren’t a design feature, they’re utilitarian. Don’t try to make them fancy, you’ll just lose viewers. 

That’s pretty much it. Any questions feel free to get in touch!

And a HUGE shout out to Jack Foster who spent hours (weeks?) figuring out this method many years ago, when there really wasn't any info online on how to do it! 


Follow on Twitter


0 comments on “Hard-Coding Subtitles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *