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!

Immersive Storytelling is the Future of Public Relations

future of journalism talk by Robert Hernandez


By Julie Wright —President
Twitter: @juliewright


The future of public relations and journalism are two sides of the same coin, and both are experiencing powerful technological advances that are reshaping how the media and professional communicators tell and distribute stories. While these changes have disrupted old business models and best practices, they’ve also benefited people by making it easier to access and consume the news and content they want, whenever and wherever they want.

The next wave of innovation is immersive storytelling and it’s poised to take content producers and consumers well beyond the two-dimensional experience of today’s news reports or public relations’ white papers, case studies, press releases and b-roll.

What Does the Future Look Like for Journalism?

There are already more mobile phones on the planet than toothbrushes or working toilets. USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Robert Hernandez shared this insight to provide context during his opening remarks April 28 to the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2018 regional conference hosted by the Greater Los Angeles SPJ chapter.

The annual conference attracted hundreds of journalists from across the southwest to the Universal City Hilton, and (W)right On Communications was proud to sponsor Hernandez’s presentation, “What Does the Future Look Like for Journalism?”

Well regarded in media circles as an academic and as a veteran of web journalism, Hernandez urged journalists to become early adopters of new technologies and embrace it for storytelling. It’s a message that holds true for PR pros, content marketers and brand journalists concerned about the future of public relations.

Hernandez pointed out that TV took 38 years and radio 14 years to reach 50 million users but the web took only four, the iPod three and Facebook two to reach the same milestone. Technology is changing how we communicate and doing so at a breakneck pace.

On May 1, Facebook announced that it is introducing augmented reality into its Messenger platform. Soon, Facebook advertisers will be able to provide filters in Messenger that potential customers can apply to experience their product—like a new lip color, furniture or fashion—before buying.

On April 30, NBCUniversal and Google announced that they’ll be partnering to produce original virtual reality content for the NBC, Bravo and Syfy networks including NBC’s Saturday Night Live and Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, which already has some 360 video available on YouTube. Will virtual reality content for NBC News be close behind?

My guess is that Hernandez would hope so. He urged news media to jump on these new technologies—including immersive 360-degree video, augmented reality and virtual reality platforms—and begin using them as storytelling platforms.

“If you think this is the final form, you’re fooling yourself,” said Hernandez of today’s mobile phones, mobile cameras and social media platforms.

The Future of Public Relations is Tied to New Storytelling Tech Too

Public relations professionals—particularly content marketers—should also be experimenting with these platforms and preparing for the near future of public relations where immersive storytelling becomes mainstream. We have the opportunity to adopt and adapt immersive platforms to communicate not just key messages but key experiences. Imagine how much more persuasive such tools would be in motivating a belief or behavior from your target audience.

And imagine how media outlets would appreciate content like 360 video or interactive augmented reality graphics to support a press announcement or event coverage.

With so much content competing to engage consumers and B2B customers today, it only makes sense that communicators adopt the most engaging and breakthrough new technologies to raise their content and messages above the din.

As Hernandez noted, for cash-strapped newsrooms, this technology doesn’t have to be expensive. He shared a VR tip sheet that includes apps to convert your mobile phone to a virtual reality recording device, several 360 video cameras and VR headsets at varying price points.

Hernandez heads up a VR journalism program at the Annenberg School, creatively named JOVRNALISM. He and his students have produced 360 video reports from places like Friendship Park at the border between San Diego and Tijuana and Korea’s demilitarized zone.

In this video, you can use your tablet or smart phone screen to explore a 360-degree view of the DMZ and listen while South Korea’s loudspeakers blast Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” across the border.

Media outlets on the forefront of augmented reality include The New York Times. Hernandez cited their AR piece on David Bowie, which documents his costumes and style through the ages. Open The New York Times mobile app or navigate to their mobile website and search “augmented reality” on your iPhone or Android device to see and experience and be inspired by these incredible AR features.

Hernandez described AR as a “new type of journalism.” Here’s how The New York Times described it in their AR guide for readers:

“If photography freed journalists to visually capture important moments, and video allowed us to record sight, sound and motion, then our augmented reality feature goes a step further, making flat images three-dimensional. AR brings our report to you in a way that makes it more immediate than ever before. Imagine if journalists applied this technology to stories on the homeless and other topics where immersive technology can bring an experience to life.”

            – Your Guide to Augmented Reality in The Times

Imagine what content marketers can do when they deliver an immersive case study experience for their targets rather than another six-page white paper.

It’s not difficult to see how immersive storytelling could more effectively drive behavior change or swell a nonprofits’ donor rolls with an immersive public service campaign. Imagine using virtual reality to put your target audience in the passenger seat next to a distracted or drunk driver, in a homeless shelter, in an animal shelter or in a wilderness refuge being threatened by deforestation or climate change.

With augmented reality, imagine that for every donation of $100 to a wildlife cause, an app creates a 360 video of you surrounded by elephants at a watering hole or sitting with a panda bear in a tree and gives you the option to share it on your social networks. On the other end of the spectrum, picture an immersive corporate annual report that takes shareholders into the boardroom, onto the factory floor and into the field.

A new frontier is opening up that incorporates sensors with immersive technologies, says Hernandez. He has tried on a virtual glove that allows you to feel things in a 3D world—from a spider running across your hand to a cup of hot coffee. While this technology is still in the lab, it’s what’s coming next.

Hernandez didn’t omit the ethical questions that these immersive storytelling technologies prompt. In the immediate future, these technologies will be used to manipulate reality for “fake news” and misinformation where virtual reality cannot be distinguished from truth or actual reality. This is a scary downside, given how susceptible to fake news and conspiracy theories the public has shown itself to be.

Just like data privacy, cybersecurity breaches and social media bots; manipulation of virtual reality is another threat that communicators, journalists and society will need to navigate, but the sooner we adopt and become proficient in these technologies, the sooner we can put them to use for better storytelling experiences and the future of public relations and journalism.

“Content is king. This is still holding true. It doesn’t matter what technology we use. It’s how we use it to tell stories. It’s your attitude as a journalist and how you view that technology that determines the future of journalism.”

           – Robert Hernandez, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

If your attitude as a communicator is one of curiosity and comfort with change (and I hope it is!), then immersive storytelling technologies should excite you about the future of public relations and the new frontiers they will open for our craft.