I've recently realized that I've formed a habit that, when written down, sounds strange: I read a lot of videos on Facebook.

You know what I'm talking about? You start scrolling through your Facebook feed, looking for anything that isn't about the presidential election, and a video begins autoplaying. You stop, watch, and -- if the video was produced by a savvy digital marketing team -- read.

Facebook videos need captions

Facebook has allowed pages to add captions to videos for a while now. But it seems like only recently that brands have begun using this feature regularly. Why? Videos autoplay in the Facebook News Feed -- without any sound. Unless you want to alert your whole office that you're surreptitiously watching a video on your iPhone during your daily mid-afternoon funk, you're not clicking on that video to hear the audio. You're going to sit there and watch it silently -- or, more likely, you're going to keep scrolling to find something else you can actually understand.

Adding closed captioning is a simple way to fix this problem. In AdWeek last month, Facebook's ad product marketing director, Graham Mudd, shared that studies show adding captions to videos increases view time by an average of 12 percent.

Despite the massive numbers related to video, Mudd said it’s still common for advertisers to simply repurpose video they ran on television. However, since mobile is a different experience, it requires different types of video. Mudd said the company has seen brands achieve much better business outcomes and attention rates when mobile video formats are taken seriously.
— "Facebook Is Now Offering Automatic Captions for Brands Silently Playing Videos," AdWeek (Feb. 10, 2016)

Case in point: In perhaps the only instance I can think of that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah beats Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Daily Show adds captions to its Facebook video clips. Full Frontal doesn't. Which one do you think I'm going to sneak-watch under my desk on Tuesdays?

The Facebook video case is a great example of why you always need to produce content that fits the specific needs and behavior of your audience in the setting that you're delivering your message. If you slap up a video on Facebook that doesn't allow people to effectively view your content, you're losing countless opportunities to connect with your audience. As the use of captioning grows, videos without words will get lost in a sea of more engaging content.

Even in video marketing, writing is still vital

I have to admit -- I've never been much of an online video watcher. I catch the latest episodes of certain shows on YouTube or Hulu, but other than that, I've always tended to ignore online videos. Come to think of it, I'm not one to sit and watch much.

But there was a certain hype to the rise of online video 5+ years ago that set my nerves on edge. If you're a writer, you probably know what I'm talking about. Those voices who said: "People want video. They don't want to read anymore."

I've let myself panic more than once that my dusty web content writing skills would no longer be useful in the marketplace someday. That I'd have to learn to love video, even if I really just didn't.

But I shouldn't have worried. Because as these Facebook videos show, words will always matter.

Even in a world where video rules, where people are time-strapped and distracted and demanding -- it's the words that people are stopping to read.

Media companies offer some of the best examples of video captioning done right:

I loved the stylized text and graphics that accompany these two videos. In the first, you can clearly compare the candidates when each of their stats rolls onto the screen. In the second, short bits of text interpret the action. In fact, when you turn the sound on that one, it doesn't even have narration -- it's all captions, baby.

One of my favorite recent examples of photo captions comes from Goodyear Aviation, which launched its social media presence this week with a stunning introductory video. The captions, beautifully set over historical footage, tell a captivating story about the history of aviation -- and how Goodyear has been there every step of the way.

It's words that made a difference for all these videos. Words are, and will continue to be, a critical part of effective digital marketing. Even in a world where half of all online traffic is video, words still make people stop, look, and learn. 

So the next time you're thinking video, don't forget those magic words.

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