5 Ways Travel Brands Can Connect with Consumers

5 Ways Travel Brands Can Connect with Consumers

By Licia Walsworth — Communications Strategist travel 

What may have started as a year full of excitement about cruises to tropical islands, getaways to the mountains, or first trips to magical theme parks has deflated into canceled plans, disappointment, and postponed dreams for travelers. travel

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for travel brands.

The spirit of travel is ingrained in us. Being confined for too long takes its mental and physical toll. 

According to a recent Destination Analysts survey, almost half of American travelers are open to receiving news and updates about exciting travel destinations. People crave the mental break of reminiscing about places they have visited or dreaming of places they still want to go.

By adopting what is working in today’s unfamiliar travel PR and marketing territory, your brand could still find its voice and have it stand out over the crowd.  

1. Silence Is Not Golden travel

The knee-jerk reaction of most brands was to halt all advertising and social media posts immediately. These companies perceived it as the only way to survive. But silence is not always golden. Skift.com recently highlighted how Booking Holdings and their sub-brands (like Booking.com and Agoda) successfully increased their market share over other travel companies, simply by staying the course. Consumers continued to see their advertising — and reacted with their wallets. In the grand scheme of things, Booking Holdings’ overall revenue was down, as it was for most travel brands during this time, but they grew their market share on Trivago from 39% to 54% year over year.

What’s the lesson? You may not be able to grow your market but you can take market share from your competitors and be better positioned as the market recovers. Wouldn’t we all like to see our share of the proverbial pie grow in those kinds of increments? As the age-old saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

2. The Open Road Is Calling travel

In the same Destination Analysts survey, over 50% of respondents stated they would take a road trip over air travel in the next six months. That means it’s time for destinations to start investing in their own backyards. The drive market is calling. Even the New York Times is drawing attention to the nostalgia of road trip travel from decades ago when packing everyone in the family car and hitting the open road was the norm for summer vacations. Summers at the shore, camping in the mountains, and hiking in the forests have become welcome visuals overcrowded theme parks, city centers, and cruise ships.

The lesson is to let the drive market know you are there, what you offer (family drive-in movies in your parking lot? Drive through grab and go breakfasts?), and how you can help them save that much-needed family vacation— all to help boost your current business with the potential to create lasting loyalty and travel traditions for years to come.

3. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

PerformanceIN suggests that now is the time to leverage your relationships, affiliates, and partners across the industry to find mutually beneficial outcomes. Travel bloggers, media influencers, and attractions need to work together to reach their target audiences, maintain consistent messaging, and make the consumer feel confident about the travel experiences they are considering. Find ways to work with the media to promote how safe, comfortable, and enjoyable your destination is.

While many destinations and resorts have been afraid to host media or influencers given they can’t deliver the full experience or support their site visit with the normal level of service, these writers and personalities are hungry to travel and engage with your brand and share positive socially distanced experiences with their readers and followers. You can also partner with attractions or restaurants to become a sort of one-stop-shop offering value-based add-ons to your clients’ stay. As households plan their travel, they’re looking for space and safety, not for discounts, so don’t chase this market down: add value instead through partnerships. It’s an opportunity to create a win-win situation, and spreading the wealth could be mutually beneficial not only now, but as the basis for long-lasting collaborations into the future.

The lesson here is while we can’t get together physically, we can partner virtually to get messages out and create the best possible travel experience for guests and visitors.

4. Visual Shopping – It’s a Buyers’ Market

The booking window for travel is shrinking — dramatically. Leisure travel used to have an average lead time of 28 to 90 days. According to Phocuswire, that window has whittled down to seven days. And in this period of stress, uncertainty, and distraction, time is of the essence. Consumers want to know that your destination is safe. They want to reassurance that safety protocols are being followed. They want to know that you know what you are doing. And they want to know that as soon as they get to your website.

Making it hard for them to find what they are looking for can mean one of two things: They will simply move on to your competitor’s site, or, they’ll call your hotel for this information, taking up the time of an already busy front-office worker. Don’t make the consumer do the work. Be proud of your message of safety — get it front and center. A video is the best way to show the consumer you mean business. Check out these videos we produced for Welk Resorts and the San Diego Tourism Authority for some great ways to let consumers know you mean business.

 The lesson here is to show consumers your health and safety practices to build their confidence and secure their business. Let them see firsthand the steps your company is taking to ease any stress they may be feeling about their trip. Reach out if we can help you create your visual selling tool.

5. Personalization Fulfills Expectations

During a crisis, people want to know they are being heard. They want to be shown compassion. And they want to be able to let their guard down. It all starts with trust. Letting your consumer know that you hear and understand them and that you will cater to their needs speaks volumes. As Salesforce’s leading hospitality and tourism executive told Skift.com, lost are the days where frequent stays will increase a traveler’s loyalty status level. To win them over now, it’s time to get personal and customize their experience. Their information is at your fingertips — from their booking preferences to their age, hometown, and contact information. Building custom- experiences based on the knowledge you already possess will continue to make that customer brand-loyal for life.

According to Skift, more than 80% of customers said they experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. When you are thinking of your next mass e-blast or social media campaign, ask yourself how it speaks to your end consumer, specific personas, or the actual individuals receiving or engaging with your content. Does it get to them on an emotional level?

This lesson is that actively building connections will always yield higher returns than simply hoping for the best. One of my favorite mentors always said: “Hope is not a strategy.” Know your audience and what makes them tick. Then offer it to them. They will thank you in return.

Remember that this too shall pass. While we can’t know how quickly, we can continue to be present, be mindful of our message, and make the most of your assets to sell your story. The only direction to look is forward. Use thoughtful resources to guide your communications. Make every interaction intentional and meaningful. Consumers will remember — and will thank you for it.  

Hospitality Communications Survival Guide in the New Tomorrow

By Shae Geary— Senior Communications Strategist
The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic making strategic hospitality communications more important than ever for our hotels, resorts and destinations. While press trips and event promotion may be paused, there’s a critical need for hospitality communications that build trust and confidence around visiting your destination or property.

Prioritize Safety

Visitors won’t return if they don’t feel safe, and it’s not enough to assume that your guests know what you are doing to maximize safety, cleanliness and hygiene. A good place to start is a dedicated landing page on your website with detailed information, then linking to this page in your direct-to-consumer communications. In the age of visual shopping, you may even want to consider creating a video like this one that we created with Welk Resorts.

There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace right now and by appropriately highlighting your company safety standards and new protocols, you’ll help visitors feel confident and secure in their decision to vacation with you.

Emphasize Social Distancing

In the age of pandemic, it’s no surprise that outdoor-oriented, uncrowded activities and settings are top priorities for potential guests. Your hospitality communications should be updated to reflect this trend.

Take time to assess your content library. If your images and messaging are lacking, consider a refresh now. Imagery that includes hotel room balconies, for instance, may be much more attractive to potential visitors than an interior guest room shot. Restaurant images that emphasize open-air patios and socially distanced tables as well as shots of outdoor activities like bike riding also will appeal to today’s consumer.

Consider using these images prominently on your website, social media and guest communications.

Embrace Local and Drive Market Media

With reduced budgets and staff, it’s critical that time and energy are directed to hospitality communications efforts that result in the highest return on investment.

With road trips and local travel recommended as the safer option in the short term, a priority should be placed on working with travel media and influencers in your closest drive markets. These media professionals are eager to help travel recover and know that there is pent-up demand for getting away. Use them to help deliver your safety messages and information about what to expect during a visit. People know that the experience won’t be what it was pre-pandemic and are ready to embrace the positives in what is being offered.

Third-party recommendations can go a long way toward ensuring potential visitors that a visit can meet social distancing requirements while also being fun and relaxing.

Monitor NIMBY Concerns

According to the most current destination research, a majority of residents remain wary about other travelers visiting their communities. As tourism reopens, it’s important for hospitality communicators to monitor the local sentiment and potential negative pushback, while being prepared to develop campaigns showing the positive impact of tourism and its vital contribution to the local economy.

Proactive outreach as well as savvy online reputation management are a must.

Don’t Overlook Internal Communication

During a crisis, especially a prolonged crisis, it’s important to deliver regular updates and expectations to your employees. These communications can include everything from information about what’s open to safety protocol reminders and even helpful tips for dealing with difficult situations unique to the pandemic such a visitor refusing to wear a mask.

Delivering these on a regular schedule in a snackable format can help reassure staff and avoid harmful speculation. Furloughed employees, especially if you are intending to hire them back, also should not be overlooked. Periodic check-ins, even if nothing has changed in terms of business status, can go a long way toward building continued loyalty so that they will return when you need them.

Retain Hospitality PR Professionals to Help

Strategic hospitality communications are essential for navigating your business rebound during these exceptional times. If you need help getting started, developing a strategy, or determining best practices, a hospitality PR agency is a great solution for maximizing your budget, even if it is just for the short term. Give us a call or email for a free consultation or to discuss your needs.

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Business Social Media During a Pandemic

By Chloe Janda — Communications Coordinator

business social media dos and donts

Just as “stay-at-home” and “shelter in place” orders have changed how people spend their free time in the physical world, it has also changed how people behave in the digital world. According to the New York Times, the use of video chatting services has spiked, news outlets are seeing triple-digit percentage increases in web traffic and, unsurprisingly, time spent on social media sites is up across the board. With more people spending more time on social media and actively participating on the platforms, there’s increased opportunity for marketers to capture attention.

But with opportunity comes risk. Brands slammed for tone-deafness on social media is as old as social media itself. Nonetheless, some brands are nailing it. To make sure your business is talked about for the right reasons, let’s explore how to adapt your business social media strategy and get ahead.

The Do’s

DO Adapt and Re-strategize: A large part of this “new normal” is a need to adapt business operations, and your social media content needs to reflect that. Sharing what your team is doing adds a human element to your brand, shows successful examples of business adjustments, and connects with your audience in a real way. Recently we shared a screenshot of our weekly meeting on LinkedIn that was hat themed and tripled our average number of post engagements and quadrupled the average reach. 

DO Try Longform Content: IGTV (Instagram Television) and Instagram Live are all over everyone’s feed because people have time to create and consume long-form content. Videos on Facebook always perform the best and reach an older audience and YouTube and TikTok are most popular with Gen Z. Virtual concerts, Q&A’s, how-to’s, workouts, interviews, and conversations with people of influence are the most common formats because they work.

DO Engage Your Audience: Overcommunicating and sending messages that are succinct with your company is going to help your posts be seen. Every channel is congested with content, so the more you share the more likely you’ll be heard. Try adding in a call to action (CTA) for your audience to engage in a discussion with you in the comments. Make sure its relevant to the content of the post and that what you’re asking them to share is something you’d ask in a conversation. Try CTAs like “comment and share your experience doing ___” or “tag a friend and share a story you had ____.” If your engagement is struggling, check out HypeAuditor’s analysis of which topics are performing the best and the worst at this time and see if your brand can align with any of the growing ones. 

DO Use Legacy Content: Legacy content, aka content never shared or years old, is particularly prominent with sports accounts lacking new content or storylines to leverage. Sharing a huge past success or your brand’s “highlight reel” is a great way to keep your audience engaged without producing new content from scratch. 

Other than sports, celebrities and musicians have been posting old or never-before-seen performance videos, like Chance the Rapper. This content might seem old to you, but it’s new to your audience and will keep your brand relevant and forgotten.

DO Team-Up: Partnerships with brands or companies (e.g. giveaways, live videos, webinars) boost the coming together as a community idea to get through this strange state of affairs. The social media channels are oversaturated, but with a partner, you can cross-market two unique audiences and increase your following. We recently facilitated a product giveaway with an influencer whose requirement for giveaway entry was to comment the first thing you’ll do when quarantine is over. This resulted in over 350 comments, increasing her overall engagement rate and expanding our client’s brand awareness while positively rallying the community.

DO Check Your Performance Data: Maintaining a pulse on metrics, KPIs and what people are saying about your brand helps streamline strategy and clarifies what is working or what is not. Apps like Hootsuite and Sprout Social can make this process a lot easier, but each social channel also has analysis tools for business profiles. Check out these 10 Metrics to Track When Analyzing Your Social Media Marketing and see what method might work best for you so you can continuously evolve your messaging framework.

The Don’ts

DON’T Go Dark: Going completely dark, aka not posting anything, on a business social media account can cause a lot of harm. Not only will your engagement and reach dramatically drop as other similar businesses gain traction, but you’ll also risk looking out of step and panic-stricken. Even if it’s just one post a week, it’s better than nothing.

DON’T Use Pandemic Buzzwords: If you’re not in the healthcare space, avoid any posts directly giving information about COVID-19/coronavirus. “Self-care” and “unprecedented” are also overused buzzwords right now and while acknowledging that things are tough and your brand/company is supportive, at this point the messages surrounding these buzzwords are kind of moot. Never forget why your audience began following you in the first place. Stick to what you know and give them the content they want!

DON’T Push Sales Too Hard: The economy is struggling and so are sales but pushing the bottom line too much can be ill-received. Instead of straight forward sales messaging, try offering something to incentivize buyers. Many B2C brands are seeing successes by offering free shipping, discount codes, personalized messages, and self-care goodies included in shipped orders. If you’re a nonprofit, it’s okay to ask for help because those who can want to rally around the community. 

DON’T Get Political: Avoid reposting anything that could cause a political debate. No one needs more politics and you don’t want to start a flood of comments that are off-topic from your brand.

Overall, creativity maintains relativity during this pandemic. If your brand can create content that provides some enjoyment and distraction, you’ll find success, expand your consumer base, and strengthen your digital presence now and after this pandemic.

Reach out to us to discuss strategic business social media and communication planning at info@wrightoncomm.com.

Is the Influencer Influential? How to Find and Vet Influencer Marketing Partners

By Chloe Janda — Communications Coordinator 

Finding the right influencers for your brand is like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s doable, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Except today’s social media haystack is more of a field… the size of Russia.

New influencers popup every day, and some aren’t even cognizant individuals. I’m not just talking about bots, catfishes, and dogs; I’m talking babies with blue checkmarks. Have you seen DJ Khaled’s son Asahd who recently released a Kid’s Foot Locker collection with Jordan’s?! Or Bretman Rock’s niece Cleo Mae who does nothing but be really cute and has a promotion inquiry email in her bio?!?! What. Is. Happening.

Okay, rant over.

Let’s get to the juice, how do we muddle through the real accounts with influence and avoid the #FakeViews AND find someone who will not only increase your brand reach but ultimately boost your conversions and sales.

As Communications professionals, finding the right partnership is an ever-evolving art where we factor in engagement, audience psychographics, influencer genre, whether partnership content can be both promotional and feel native, and how the partnership will reflect on our client’s brand. At (W)right On, we’ve got a few tools, tips and tricks to vet these internet mavens before ever recommending them to a client. Below are our six essential criteria when vetting an influencer.

1. Type of Reach – Is it the target audience for your brand?

Determining which demographics an influencer’s audience consists of (e.g. Millennials vs. Baby Boomers; Fitness Buffs vs. Parents) is the first step when vetting because you want to align your potential partnership with your goals.

For example, say Nike was looking to do a social campaign for a new clothing line and wants to reach a sports-focused audience. Two of the top sports social influencers are ESPN and Barstool Sports. Although they aren’t influencers in the sense of one person, they as publishers have an influential status in the social media realm and highlight differences in the type of reach.

ESPN’s content has a more professional, traditional and news focused tone and their audience demographics are 76% male with a median age of 48. Barstool Sports still has a mostly male audience, but their content appeals to a younger base because it is more edgy, flippant and a little crass.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Heading into work tomorrow morning after drinking a million beers this past weekend @oldrowofficial (Via @Braccoz @nboccab )

A post shared by Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) on

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Russ is still holding off Lamar in our experts’ latest MVP ballot ???? (via @espnnfl)

A post shared by ESPN (@espn) on

Since ESPN’s content and audience aligns more with Nike’s target customers and overall brand tone, they’d likely choose to partner with them over Barstool.

Depending on your brand or client partner, there are types of influencers that will be better suited for your goals. At (W)right On, we often work with influencers for our hospitality clients, particularly setting up site visits for Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite and Welk Resorts. Both destinations are ideal for families, so we’ll partner with Mommy bloggers and travel influencers.

A very handy tool we use to ease this vetting process is HypeAuditor. With their free account, you can view a brief analysis of audience demography and interests. For example, below is Asahd Khaled’s audience stats and to the right is 52 Perfect Days, a blogger we’ve partnered with.

P.S. HypeAuditor is a great tool, but it only analyzes Instagram and YouTube so depending on your campaign it may not be as helpful.

2. Are they considered an authority on certain subjects?

HypeAuditor’s audience interest report (shown above) is a great at-a-glance option to see which topics the influencer is most known for. For example, in the hospitality space, we target travelers and lifestyle influencers who are consistent in this focus.

But more than just interest, you want to be sure that the influencer’s “lane” aligns with whatever your message is for the campaign. For example, if your client has a high-end razor, you’d want to partner with an influencer who is known for their luxurious lifestyle. If your client is offering a cheap shoulder season vacation package, you’d target a budget travel influencer.

3. Audience Authenticity – Reach vs. Impact

When finding influencers for your brand to partner with, you not only want folks whose follower demographics match those of your brand but also ones with an authentic audience filled with real people actively visiting their social channels. When researching, check for:

    • Are there any boughts or bots? HypeAuditor’s one-off reports are $30 and offer a full analysis of true followers, but the free one also shows a chart of yearly follower growth. Here is 52 Perfect Days’ stats:

4. Engagement vs. Followers – Are they responsive and growing?

To get that high ROI, your message needs to be seen. To do so, check for:

  • What is the quality of the comments? Are they spammy or real people?
    • You’ll have to manually look at a few posts for this, but comments are important because it means they’re resonating with their audience, which assures your brand campaign will be seen.
  • Average likes?
    • This one’s easy enough because all you really need to do is look at their number of followers and check a couple posts for how many likes they average. If they have 100k followers but 85 likes on most posts, those are most likely bought followers.
    • This can also be quickly assessed using tools like HypeAuditor to view engagement rates or another nifty tool, PeopleMap, which primarily analyzes Instagram. Here are a few reports from PeopleMap:

Also, be sure you look at different posts to get a true average. For fitness influencers, their shirtless post-workout poses might drive much more engagement than a selfie while they’re traveling. Knowing what types of posts do the best will help you better evaluate fit and help you determine what sort of content might be most suitable for a partnership.

5. Quality of Content – Tone, Writing Style, Topics

When researching influencers, especially bloggers, evaluate their ability to tell a story and frame it well. It’s hard to make sponsored content feel organic, but it’s impossible to do if the influencer has built an audience purely on personality and not on content or storytelling. Reading their posts is a start, but also ask:

    • What is the overall tone of their content? Is it authentic, static, dull, relatable, short, trendy, basic, long, like a blog?
    • Does their tone align with your brand’s tone and values?
    • How often do they post?
    • Where is the content published? Multiple social accounts, blogs, media websites?
    • What topics do they primarily focus on and which ones receive the most engagement?

6. Previous Brand Collaborations – Quality and Quantity

Each influencer approaches partnerships and campaigns differently. Some want comped meals and activities, while some charge a fee. Depending on your campaign goals, budget, and expected ROI, in addition to vetting the quality of the influencer’s audience engagement and past partnership posts, you should also consider:

    • Have they promoted brands before?
    • How many?
    • Are they your competitors?
Of course, there’s no fool-proof formula for evaluating whether an influencer partnership campaign will pop or flop. Influencer marketing is constantly changing, so it’s important to stay up to date on the latest industry trends and listen to feedback from influencers.
Remember, these are only the essentials, so if you want to learn more and avoid that field of hay, reach out to us!

Three Essential Marketing Tactics for Hospitality Brands

By Natalia Xibille —Communications Coordinator 

1. Integrate the influencers

In this era of diminishing trust, the public craves authenticity. This is reflected in the massive growth of a hospitality marketing tactic that recently established itself and is expected to experience five times more growth by 2021– influencer marketing. Rather than sticking to the basic ad placement that’s blatantly meant to sell, influencer marketing creates a sense of sincerity. The influencer isn’t seen as some big corporation looking to make money, but rather as an admired friend that’s looking to inform their followers about a great product or destination that they think they’ll enjoy.

Influencers are now widely used in campaigns, but there are a few important steps you need to take prior to introducing an influencer into your hospitality brand’s campaign.

  • Assess the campaign goals as well as the overall goal of the brand
  • Analyze the influencer’s audience
  • Evaluate the type of content the influencer posts to see if it will actually aid in achieving your brand’s goals (i.e. geotagging, hashtags, tagging, shots of the hotel/destination)
  • Most importantly, track the levels of engagement between the influencer and followers

After assessing your goals and properly vetting the influencer, communicate your goals to the influencer. Don’t simply offer money or free product to the influencer in exchange for specific content. Instead, collaborate with the influencer to ensure they understand the mission of your brand and empower them to create the content that will resonate with their followers the best. This process results in content that feels more genuine and is more appropriate for the target audience.

2. Freshen up your storytelling

With the plethora of channels used by consumers to share and exchange information, it’s getting harder and harder for a hospitality brand’s content to stand out. Yes, being an outstanding writer is important, but what communicators now have to consider is how to best present their message to the audience in a fun, creative and visual way. Luckily for us, there’s a variety of exciting new storytelling tools at our disposal. From virtual reality to drones to infographics to 360 ° cameras, take advantage of these tools to create unique stories that immerse the viewer and hint at the kind of experience they will have if they choose your hospitality brand.

The point of using these technologies is to help spark a feeling about your brand through content. The ultimate at doing this is Disney. Instead of focusing on specifications and features – X number of beds, X amenities, $X per night, etc. – you should be focusing on the experience they deliver and the emotions surrounding it.

Sidenote, if you’re interested in hearing more about how to use 360° cameras in your campaign, read this post by WOC President and Founder Julie Wright.

3. Listen and engage

Two-way communication has never been more important than it is today. Users are not only consuming content, but they’re also creating it. Not only does user-generated content remove some of the hassle of creating original content, but it also creates a feeling of authenticity. Plus, an unpaid consumer sharing their experience with your brand is third party validation just like great media coverage.

Take advantage of this user-generated content and find ways to include it in your communications strategies. To find this content,  deploy social listening campaigns. Through social listening, hospitality brands are able to spot content where they’re featured and identify what’s being said about them. An excellent social listening tool is Hootsuite, which enables you to link and create dashboards for multiple social platforms that show streams of mentions, comments or shares so you can quickly and easily share or respond.

PR professionals can use 360° cameras for visual storytelling

360 Degree Visual Storytelling

 

By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


We recently moved our San Diego head office into a beautiful new space. I couldn’t wait to share it with the world. There was just one problem. Our new setting needed to be experienced rather than described or shown. Words either fell flat or came off as braggadocious and standard photos and video weren’t capturing the scene I wanted to depict.

How could I share our agency story so people could experience virtually what our team was experiencing in real life?

Inspired by a recent journalism presentation I attended on immersive storytelling, I realized that, as a PR professional, I could use 360° cameras for visual storytelling too—in fact, a 360° camera was probably the perfect solution for my quandary. So, I began browsing Amazon for options and settled on the Samsung Gear 360.

For $99, this camera shoots in 4K, has a microphone and takes photos and videos plus time lapse, live video and HDR landscape images. It has two lenses–one in the front and the other in the rear. You can shoot from just one lens  for an extra wide angle, panoramic-style still or video. When you use both lenses, the camera’s software stitches the images captured by each lens together to create a seamless 360° view of your surroundings.

Why Go With a 360° Cameras for Visual Storytelling?

Visual storytelling is more important than ever. In the information economy, the scarcest commodity is attention, and visuals are the most economical vehicle for communicators to get their points across.

That’s because the brain can process visual information—or at least recognize a concept—in as little as 13 milliseconds, according to MIT research released in 2014. (By comparison, it takes 400 milliseconds to blink an eye.)

Through strategic design, motion graphics and video, today’s storytellers can convey a message or create a feeling in their target audience “at a glance”—and a glance may be all you have. The visual draws your audience’s attention and makes them care long enough to read the rest of your message or material. Additionally, visual content is highly correlated with recall. An audience exposed only to text or spoken word could recall 10 to 20 percent of the content after three days. With visuals, audience recall rose to an average of 65 percent. (For more on visual storytelling, check out our most recent newsletter.)

There’s a hierarchy at work: still images outperform text, motion graphics outperform still images, video outperforms motion graphics and live experiences outperform video. As an experiential form of video,  360° cameras for visual storytelling can bridge that gap between stills, videos and experiences.

Social media stories (videos with animated gifs and virtual reality filters like Snapchat’s and Instagram’s) illustrate this hierarchy perfectly as they have nearly overtaken traditional feed posts as the new preferred medium for social sharing.

And news outlets have embraced 360° storytelling too with The New York Times, Associated Press and others using this technology to immerse their readers and viewers in their reports from the field.

360° Cameras Are Not Just for Photographers

Don’t be afraid to use this technology. I wouldn’t call myself a technophile by any stretch of the imagination. I hate reading user manuals and expect my tech to be intuitive to use right out of the box. That said, the instructions for the Samsung Gear 360 were straightforward and easy to digest.

After charging the device; I downloaded the app on my Samsung S9 (an iPhone app is also available), inserted a memory card (sold separately), connected my phone via Bluetooth and started taking photos and videos using my phone to control the device and to store the images too.

Learn By Doing

You’ll want to get familiar with the camera’s features. Give yourself the opportunity to learn what works and how to get the best images when you’re not under pressure or on the clock. Set aside some time and space to play with your new toy. You’ll quickly see for yourself what each mode can do. Below are some examples that I shot from our San Diego and Los Angeles offices and a few from my summer visit to Honolulu:

360° Photo: Using One Lens Only for a Panoramic Effect

(W)right On La Jolla Panorama
This panoramic image was created in the Landscape HDR mode which uses only one lens but takes multiple pictures at different exposures and combines them to create more intense 180° or 360° images. It was the perfect solution for capturing our office environment without backlighting problems.

360° Photo: Using Both Lenses for Full 360° Still Image

360-photo
Images from both the front and rear lenses are stitched together to create 360 degree views in a static, still image with a fun, otherworldly feel. Search #tinyplanet on Instagram for many fun examples.

360° Video: Using Both Cameras for a Full 360° Experience

Click and drag your cursor to experience the agency’s La Jolla office from all directions! 

360° Time Lapse: An IABC Los Angeles Chapter Meeting

Click the image and drag your cursor to see who’s at the table! 

360° Time Lapse: Walking through Waikiki

These 360° images become interactive when uploaded directly to Facebook. Your followers just need to tip, tilt and turn their mobile handset to view the image from all angles. Here’s an example—if you’re reading this on your mobile device, click on the link and give it a try.

Don’t Be All Thumbs

Your thumbs and fingers might wind up in your 360° shots because the 360° view is so wide.

To keep your thumbs out of the shot, secure the camera on a slender extendable mount of some kind. I found that a light stand worked perfectly. I also tried a stabilizer I had been using for taking standard video with my smart phone, but its mount was too chunky and showed up in the shot. Most light stands have a simple screw at the top upon which the Samsung Gear 360 model fits securely. Light stands are generally very lightweight, collapsible and inexpensive.

Ultimately, I also purchased a short, lightweight tripod that I can also hold in my hand to keep my fingers out of the image and which is easier to travel with.

Once the camera is mounted on a tripod, you can control it from a distance using your Bluetooth-connected phone. That means that you can place the camera to capture a scene and then go pose for the shot. With the camera’s timer mode, you can also set up a shot and give yourself a few seconds to put your camera down and get yourself or your group into position.

If you’re holding the device in your hand, you’ll be happier with the results if you look up at the camera and say “cheese” or, as explained above, place it on a tripod and operate the camera at a distance with your smart phone for a less posed shot.

Be Mindful With Motion

With the 360° video setting, the immersive nature of a moving image can be a bit disorienting. A gimbal device can be used to create a more professional, totally stabilized image or video.

But even without additional stabilizing accessories you can capture motion elegantly.

First, place the camera on a tripod so that it’s perfectly still. Allow the camera to capture the motion around it. That will give the viewer the sense that they’re immersed in the action without the distraction of jarring camera movements.

Second, make use of the time lapse setting. Hold the camera at a distance on a narrow stabilizer and slowly move through the scene that you’re seeking to capture. Because the final image will be considerably sped up, any jerky motions won’t be visible. This effect creates a fun, high-energy image and can really boil a scene or experience down into mere seconds for at-a-glance communication.

Third, combine a tripod with the time lapse feature. Using the tripod, take a time lapse image of the surroundings. If the experience you’re trying to capture is something like an event getting set up, a streetfront or bustling beach scene, this combination will immerse your viewer in that place and convey the scene in mere seconds.

Depending on the 360° product you’re using, it may have a “Stabilize” setting, which, in the case of the Gear 360, automatically corrects shaky or tilted photos and videos. If you’re uploading to YouTube to share your footage, you can also toggle YouTube’s Auto-Fix or Stabilize Video options in its Effects menu before publishing.

Ideas for PR Pros to Use a 360° Camera for Visual Storytelling

The uses are manifold! Essentially, anytime you want your audience to feel or experience something remotely or virtually, 360° video or stills are a great tool in your communicator’s toolkit.

Hospitality PR pros can bring prospective guests and media right into the property’s lobby or immerse them in a nearby visitor attraction. A technology public relations team can bring the trade-show floor or their CES booth to life. And imagine doing that as a behind-the-scenes Facebook or Instagram live video to tease your booth or product launch? If you’re in entertainment PR, this technology is perfect to immerse your audience in a red carpet or festival experience.

I’m most excited by this technology for nonprofit visual storytelling. Putting your donors in the environment of the people, places or pets that their philanthropy helps can be incredibly powerful. A hospital foundation can show the new wing or equipment that its donors helped fund, a food bank can show its empty shelves ahead of a food drive and a nature preserve can share a time lapse with hikers, wildlife and passing clouds to encourage public support.

All of the above are perfectly suited for social media engagement too. And with Facebook and YouTube supporting 360° video, you can use these social networks to share your immersive visual stories.

What to Budget

If you’re ready to try a 360° camera for visual storytelling, you can buy one for about the same price as a 164 GB storage card, and you’ll likely need both, so budget at least $200. While you might be able to save $20 by buying a smaller memory card, why have regrets when you run out of storage capacity in the middle of a video shoot?

A light stand as a tripod may run you a minimum of $20 and a handheld stabilizer about $15 to $500 depending on how fancy you want to get.

I also upgraded the storage card on my phone to make sure I would not run out of storage space as I began accumulating more large video files. And the Landscape HDR mode images are quite large too – but beyond worth it. (I never want to take a standard landscape photo again!)

Conclusion

If you do go for it (or are already producing 360° video and immersive stories for your client or company), I’d love to hear about your experiences or see your work. Share with me on Instagram at @juliewrightPR or see our agency’s feed at @wrightoncomm. I can’t wait to see how others are using immersive storytelling to earn attention and drive interest in their messages.

And if you’re not yet but would like to bring a 360° influencer to your site or work with an agency that is embracing new methods to bring your story to your audience, please contact us at info@wrightoncomm.com.

The results will be well worth it!