The Virality Code: How Subtitles Transform Short-Form Content into Social Media Gold


As the social media content creation landscape becomes more competitive, holding viewers' attention gets harder. But you can use subtitles as a key to viral short-form content. And this guide will help you understand what it takes to make mega-hit TikTok Reels and Youtube Shorts content.

In this post, you will learn:

  • Three truths you need to learn to make viral short-form content.

  • Why no one can go viral without content captions.

  • Our secret “thriller scripting formula” for maximum engagement.

  • The best apps to use to make viral-worthy videos.


Short-Form Content: Fact And Fiction

The recent rise of short-form content’s popularity has also given rise to a cottage industry of rumors and myths regarding what it takes to succeed with said content. There are hundreds of gurus claiming to know the secrets of TikTok’s algorithm and thousands who claim they can make you go viral overnight.

Truth is, Short-form content is content. And like any kind of content, it needs to be good. If you focus all your energy on making good videos, and make enough short-form videos, you will find success. This brings us to the first fact.

Fact 1 - More Short-Form Content = Better Chances Of Going Viral

Are you a perfectionist? Do you want to polish your short-form videos to look like they came out of Zack Snyder’s storyboard? Then we have some bad news for you. Volume beats perfection in this game.

The myth here is that quantity and quality are on opposite sides of the content creation equation. However, the following story shows how that is not the case.

Jerry Uelsmann, a photographer and professor at University of Florida, divided his students into two groups. One group was tasked with producing one—perfect—photo. Students in that group would be graded based on how good their submission was.

And the other group was tasked with producing as many photos as they could. These students would be graded based on how many photos they took regardless of quality.

Guess what happened? The best quality photos came from the group that was tasked with focusing on quantity. An explanation for this phenomenon is that those who were busy producing more photos got better at producing good photos.

This applies to short-form content as well. If you make 100 YouTube Shorts, 99 might fail. But if you get better with each Short, your subsequent Shorts will fail less than your previous shorts. And eventually, you will go mega-viral.

That said, you do not need to fail 99 times to get better. You can learn from the mistakes of other creators. And that brings us to the second fact.

Fact 2 - You Cannot Skip Captioning

Except for dance videos, pretty much every sub-genre of short-form content requires captions. Subtitles are essential in the following niches:

  • Podcasting

  • Stand-up Comedy

  • Educational Content

  • Facts/Reporting

  • Sketch Comedy

There was a time when captions were a "hack" to get ahead. But today, everyone's using captions, so not having captions is a "hack" to stay behind. Fortunately, this boom in captioning has led to a plethora of apps that caption your content for you.

ContentFries is one such platform. It was primarily designed to cut up long videos in bite-sized short-form content. So, if you’ve seen any Reels or Shorts featuring speakers like Alex Hormozi, chances are that you’ve seen something produced on ContentFries.

The platform has now expanded to include a wider range of content types. So you can use it to make images from text, videos from audio, and even blog posts from your videos.

But its most relevant feature here is AI Captions. ContentFries uses AI for transcription, letting you create dozens of short-form videos within minutes. Its latest update also allows you to animate subtitles and further grab your audience’s attention. But despite all those features, the heart of your content is not in ContentFries or any editing app.

Fact 3 - The Script Is The Heart Of Your Content

Short-form videos are easier to make without a script. However, the script is the heart of all content, including short-form videos. You can use all the attention-grabbing gimmicks in the world. But if your videos do not have fundamental value to a specific market, you will have a bad time.

So, before thinking of your content as a creator, think of it as a consumer. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask yourself if you would give that content a try? And if you did give it a try, would you continue watching? If the answer to either of those questions is “no”, then no editing hack will save you.

But that’s good news. Because if all it takes to be successful is some empathy, then most humans have what it takes to make good content. That’s what the next section is all about.


How To Make Viral Short-Form Videos (For Every Algorithm)

If you want to make the best grilled cheese sandwich in the world, you need to have cheese. Why? Because that’s the minimum expected by those who eat grilled cheese sandwiches.

As a content creator, you need to have your finger on the pulse of your audience. And the first thing you need to ask is, what’s the minimum expected from my content?

The minimum expectations are set by the best-performing content on the platform. And this isn’t stationary. It changes with time, all the time.

After analyzing the key components of viral short-form videos, the critical role of subtitles became obvious to us. But we also found other less-noticed aspects that make videos go viral. This section will help you identify the minimum expectations as well ashit-makingingredients that can help you go viral.

Tip 1 - View Subtitles As Motion Elements

Almost every blog post about content captions goes over how effective subtitles enhance message clarity in a fast-paced content environment. Everyone knows that having text on screen helps people focus on the message.

But only the top creators realize that subtitles also complement visual storytelling. Last year, a new format of TikTok videos took off. Videos featuring subway surfers gameplay at the bottom and the actual content at the top were going viral.

Stimulating visuals were the key driver for their high watch-time. Many creators criticized this “sludge content” for contributing to Gen-Z’s decreasing attention span. But smart creators looked into the reason behind said content’s virality.

And their key takeaway was that moving stuff on the screen = high watch time. But to pull it off in a classy way, they started animating their content captions. Since subtitles are relevant to the video, the end-result doesn’t look like a Frankenstein’s monster stitched together to maximize views. But it still offers higher stimulation.

Dynamic Subtitles, the official term for subtitles that double as stimulating motion graphics, have become an expectation. But fortunately, you do not need to know how to animate if you want to use dynamic subtitles.

ContentFries has plenty of options for animating subtitles and even features a highlighter option. This option highlights whichever word the presenter is uttering, making it easier for viewers to follow what's being said.

Tip 2 - The Most Viral Videos Evoke The Greatest Emotional Response

That's said in a short-form video is more important than how stimulating its captions are. Again, dynamic captions are the "cheese" in a grilled cheese. They're what your audience expects, at a minimum. But to go viral, you have to go beyond that.

And the best way to go beyond your audience’s expectations is to focus on a single emotion and evoke it with maximum intensity.

We have looked at statistics and case studies showcasing the increased shareability and virality of subtitled videos. Top creators like MrBeast, Alex Hormozi, and Content_Machine are using subtitles in every single one of their videos. But if you go further and look at their best-performing videos, you’ll see that they evoke specific emotions.

Alex Hormozi’s most viral short-form video is about how he ate over 500 times at Chipotle. The premise evokes surprise and suspense. And the story has some educational value.

But the heart of the Short lies in the fact that Hormozi could not afford groceries required to get as many calories as he needed to get/stay buff. It reveals something about an individual who now has millions of dollars, which is pretty inspiring.

MrBeast’s most viral YouTube Short opens with an interesting question. He asks a stranger if she would go to Paris to get a baguette for him for a hundred dollars. The first participant refuses. The next participant is offered 300 dollars, and he agrees.

The entire Short is a supercut of an adventure that looks like it is pulled straight out of a fairy tale. It inspires awe, followed by aww, which is a great emotional combo.

Content Machine uploads humorous videos. So you would not expect any tear-jerkers from its content. But the duo’s most popular video opening with a man breaking up with his girlfriend a week before her birthday. The emotional premise keeps the viewer hooked as the sketch gets progressively absurd.

Of course all of these videos have captions baked into the content, because you just cannot go viral without subtitles anymore. Creative ways to use subtitles in ContentFries to add humor, suspense, or emphasis, making content more relatable and share-worthy.

Tip 3 - Make Every Video A Thriller

Thrillers are known for hitting the ground running in terms of suspense. These movies and TV shows grip the audience from the get go and keep them hooked. They build suspense and set up questions. And as they answer some questions, they add new questions to the plot, keeping viewers glued to the screen.

Even if you're not making a murder mystery or a spy movie, you can learn from thrillers. Script your content in a way that gives people a reason to watch till the end. Some creators beat around the bush to pad their watch time. But that's not working anymore, as people are getting tired of this phenomenon.

Instead of setting up one question and answering it at the end of your video. You can lay multiple questions in a progressive order.

The first sentence sets up a question, and the second sentence answers it with another question. The third sentence can answer both questions but create an information gap that the fourth sentence fills.

Getting that precise with your scripting can increase your odds of virality. And if you really want to go mega-viral, try making the first three words a combination that people have never heard before.

Here’s an example of such a script:

“Bananas in space? My therapist is just looking at me. I repeat ‘yeah bananas in space,’ that’s my recurring nightmare and you won’t believe what she says. She says that it means I am afraid of bananas in space. Did I just pay 200 dollars for that? Obviously not, coz I have found the perfect hack for free therapy. Just marry a therapist and hope she is better than mine.”

The script above works in a podcast setting or as a stand-up comedy bit. As you can see, the first three words are a curiosity-inspiring combo. And then, every sentence that follows sets up a question or an information gap that is filled at the very end. But despite such tight scripting, the video wouldn’t go viral without captions.


Apps To Use For Viral Short-Form Content

Now that you understand the role of subtitles and visual stimulation in short-form content’s success, it is time to go over the tools you can use to increase audience retention. Just remember that none of these tools replace the value of thriller scripting. They just add the extra oomph your content needs to reach the extra mile.

Contentfries - Auto-Captions / Dynamic Captions

ContentFries is a content repurposing platform that allows you to create dozens of pieces of content, mainly from long-form videos. And auto-captioning is its most relevant feature for short-form content creators.

The platform has a powerful AI captioning engine that transcribes videos within minutes. Users can edit subtitles, customize their appearance, and even opt for dynamic animation.

Pexels - Free Stock Videos And Photos is one of the most valuable libraries of free stock videos and photos. The website has thousands of videos and images that you can look up by keywords and descriptions. You can also use the content in your short-form videos without the fear of copyright infringement.

Canva - Easy Content Editing And Animation

Canva is a great platform to edit and animate images for your short-form content. The app's premium subscription gives you access to a vast library of animated GIFs, and its intuitive interface makes content editing easy for those with no editing experience.


Final Thoughts

Short-form content is all the rage. It has a low barrier to entry. But as more creators enter the space, it’s barrier for success is rising. You can no longer go viral without subtitles. And even when you use captions, you can’t be sure you will go viral. That’s why we produced this guide which helps you leverage the power of “thriller scripting” and dynamic subtitles to increase your odds of going viral.