Why PR pros should consider immersive storytelling

New technology is changing everything for communicators.

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 communicators tell and distribute stories. While these
changes have disrupted old business models and best practices, they’ve also
benefited audiences by making it easier to access and consume the news and
content they want, on their terms.

The next wave of innovation is immersive storytelling, taking 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.

Well regarded in media circles as an academic and as a veteran journalist,
Hernandez urged his colleagues to become early adopters of new technologies
and embrace it for storytelling.

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.

New technologies offer exciting

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.

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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 behind?

“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.

How PR pros should capitalize

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. They 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.

Also, 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 new, engaging technologies to
elevate their content.

As a plus for cash-strapped newsrooms, Hernandez noted, 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.

Media outlets on the forefront of augmented reality include The New York Times. Their augmented reality content about
David Bowie, which documents his costumes and style through the ages, shows the
remarkable potential for this new technology.

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.

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. With augmented reality, donations to a wildlife
cause could provide access to an app with a 360 video experience where you
are surrounded by elephants at a watering hole 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 that incorporates sensors with immersive
technologies, says Hernandez. He talked about trying 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, Hernandez says it’s what’s coming next.

Ethical concerns for future communicators

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.

Just like data privacy, cybersecurity breaches and social media bots,
manipulation of virtual reality is another threat that communicators,
journalists and society must face together. 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.


Julie Wright is the president and CEO of Wright Communications, a
west-coast based PR firm specializing in integrated strategic
communications. A version of this article originally appeared on
the Wright Communications blog
.

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