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How to Create Highly Watchable Silent Videos for Social Media

Most people watch videos on social media with the sound off. Learn how to make sure your silent videos still make sense.

Tony Tran August 4, 2020
Cover illustration

It’s late at night. You’re scrolling through your Instagram feed when an interesting video appears.

Maybe your significant other is fast asleep next to you. Maybe your dorm roommate is snoring away across the room. Either way, you don’t want to disturb them.

You have two options:

  1. Get up and try to find your headphones in the dark
  2. Watch the video on silent and hope it’s still good

Let’s be honest: You’re not getting up. Luckily, you’ll be able to watch it with no issues at all if it’s a good silent video. 

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Silent videos: What they are and why brands should care

No one likes it when a video starts loudly blaring at them as they’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. In fact, many users likely have the sound autoplay muted on their videos.

When silent autoplay is the default, 85% of videos were watched with the sound off. That means that your audience will likely watch your video for longer if it’s quiet—and optimized for silent viewing.

Users have the choice to turn autoplay sound off for all videos within their Facebook settings. And with publications well outside the social media space—think the Telegraph newspaper, Time magazine, and even Cosmopolitan—publishing articles on how to turn autoplay sound off, you can bet plenty of people will be choosing to continue their News Feed browsing in silence.

For the record, if you want your own Facebook feed to remain sound-free, just go to Settings and toggle Videos in News Feed Start With Sound to off. Or just put your phone in silent mode. Anyone whose phone is set to silent will also see silent video clips by default.

On Instagram, it’s as easy as tapping on the video causing the noise and muting it. Alternately, you could also just put your phone in silent mode.

Facebook’s own data highlights why you might not want to overdo it in the audio department: 80% of people will actually have a negative reaction to a mobile ad that plays loud sound when they’re not expecting it—and the last thing you want is to spend money on advertising only to have people think less of your brand.

Creating videos that work with or without sound gives users a choice about how they interact with your videos, so your message can speak volumes to all those who view it, whether they actually hear it or not.

7 tips to create watchable silent videos for social media

Below are our 7 best tips on creating silent videos for social media that your audience will love to watch (quietly).

Tip #1: Add closed captioning

This one should really be a default for any video you make for social media. Why? Simple: Accessibility.

Many in your audience might be hard of hearing or deaf. If you don’t add closed captioning or subtitles to your videos, that’s going to hinder their experience of your video (and brand) as a result.

So whether you’re captioning your videos or adding subtitles, you’ll be looking out for that segment of your viewership that often goes ignored. Not only that, but adding closed captions might actually improve your overall viewership. In fact, Facebook’s own internal testing showed that captioned video ads were watched an average of 12% longer than un-captioned ads.

Want to caption your videos for free? Of course you do. There are plenty of tools online to help you do just that, including Hootsuite. Hootsuite lets you upload subtitle files alongside your social videos in Compose, so that you can publish videos with closed captioning.

Facebook and YouTube also provide auto-captioning options, whereas Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat require that captions be burned in or encoded in advance.

Tip #2: Don’t rely on music for meaning

While ads with music certainly add a nice dramatic layer to your video, be careful not to rely on them too much to get a point across. Your video should be able to stand on its own with no sound included.

Remember: You’re optimizing for silence. That means you’ll be relying on visuals for most of the meaning in your video.

Which brings us to…

Tip #3: Show, don’t tell

It’s an oft-repeated rule of storytelling that you should “show, don’t tell.” It refers to the idea that audiences respond better when you give them scenes with strong visuals that convey information, rather than just outright telling them what’s going on.

The same applies to your videos. In fact, you should challenge yourself to create videos where the entire message can be conveyed completely through images—no sounds or captions. Not only will that make it silent video-friendly, but it’ll also make it more memorable.

That’s not just conjecture either—there’s actual science behind the idea that humans remember pictures better than words.

A great example of these types of videos actually come from Thai Life, a Thai insurance company that released a series of videos in 2014 that will bring you to tears without saying a single word.

Tip #4: Use sound intentionally

While optimizing for silence is a great practice, you’ll want to make sure your video has some sound to satisfy those who can listen.

If there’s simply no soundtrack at all, your video might get lost—or worse, make viewers think there’s something wrong with their speakers. That creates a frustrating user experience that could turn your audience off from your videos.

Add in some music or playful sound effects to emphasize your message for those who literally want to hear what your video is all about. You just don’t want to over rely on music and sound effects (see tip #2).

One great example of sound being used intentionally comes from Huggies. Their “Hug the Mess” campaign included a video showcasing the trouble kids can get into—and how their wipes can help clean it up.

There’s no dialogue and no captions required. The only sound included are the ones of the animated arts and craft projects reacting to the mess. That makes it just engaging enough for anyone watching with the sound on to enjoy.

Tip #5: Remember the 3 second rule

A good rule of thumb is that you have roughly 3 seconds to draw your viewer in. After that, they’re either watching your video or they’ve already forgotten about it as they scroll through their feed.

This also fits in with the amount of time for a view to count as a video for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How do you leverage the 3 second rule? Give your viewer an arresting video or image right away. Think of it as a promise to your reader that the rest of the video will be well worth the watch.

One great video series that does this well comes from Buzzfeed’s Tasty. The short video recipes they share are hugely popular. The main Tasty Facebook page alone has more than 84 million Likes.

Their recipe videos always include a great visual right away that promises the viewers going to learn how to make a tasty treat by the end.

Tip #6: Plan ahead

It’s easy to think that you can just shoot your video on the fly. However, you’ll need to have some dedicated planning for your video in order to make it work without sound.

Think about exactly what story you want to tell, and distill your key message down to its most visual elements.

If you need to incorporate some language to get your point across, think about how best to do so in a video without sound. Will you use captions? Short snippets of text onscreen? Make sure you allow visual room in your shots so you can include this text without competing with your visual imagery.

Tip #7: Use the right tools

If your video contains speech, there are several tools you can use to help you create captions.

Facebook’s automated captions tool is a great option for your Facebook videos. And YouTube’s automatic caption service furnishes text for your YouTube videos. Both these tools automatically generate a set of captions that appear overlaid on your video. You can edit them and preview them to make sure they’re correct.

Other popular apps designed to add text to videos include:

  • Hootsuite: Add closed captions to your social videos or ads by uploading an .srt file during the publishing process.
  • Vont: Choose from more than 400 fonts and make custom edits to text size, color, angle, spacing, and more. Available in English, Chinese, and Japanese.
    • Price: Free
  • Gravie: Add text, overlay graphics, and clip art to your videos to convey more than words alone can say.
    • Price: $1.99
  • Text on Video Square: Choose from more than 100 fonts and make custom edits to font size, alignment, and spacing.
    • Price: Free

For more free and inexpensive tools that can help you add text to your video—or just create videos that are visually compelling enough to make an impact without sound—check out the eight apps and desktop programs listed in our Social Video Toolkit.

Easily upload, schedule, optimize, and promote your silent videos across multiple social networks from one dashboard. Try Hootsuite free today.

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By Tony Tran

Tony is a freelance journalist and content marketing consultant. His work has been seen in Business Insider, Playboy, and Huff Post.

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