4 ways PR pros can use virtual reality

The growing technology promises to be the most powerful communications tool yet. Here’s how you can use it to immerse your consumers in your organization’s stories.

Editor’s note: “VR” is used in this article as a term for all the components of immersive reality.

Virtual Reality is featured in headlines every day. VR terms are part of communicators’ lexicon.

We always hear about hardware sales and software updates. There’s also a big need for immersive content.

Whether it is in VR, augmented reality, mixed reality or 360-degree video, PR pros have a chance to take their industry to new heights.

I’ve immersed myself in VR. I create content, design VR environments on Unity and test the latest 360-degree gear. I’ve started to craft immersive stories and strategies for clients.

RELATED: Learn to engage your employees with storytelling that turns heads. Join us at McDonald’s HQ!

Communications professionals and expert storytellers can capitalize on branding and publicity opportunities that depend on VR.

PR must pay attention to this growing trend. Here’s why:

1. Deloitte Global forecasts that in 2016, VR will have its first billion-dollar year. It estimates that $700 million will be spent on hardware, with the remainder on content.

2. Fast Company estimates that VR and AR will generate $150 billion in revenue by 2020.

3. Ketchum launched Ketchum VR at the Cannes Lions and has already done immersive for Samsung Electronics and Clorox Healthcare. The agency employs 40 technology, video, entertainment-event and user-experience experts and have formed partnerships with VR leaders.

4. Facebook is already merging social networking with virtual reality (social VR) by enabling users to “like” 360-degree VR videos while wearing their headsets. How? By using emojis.

5. YouTube plans to create a dedicated VR app for Daydream. They already support 360-degree/VR video on desktop, mobile devices and Google Cardboard.

6. Microsoft’s HoloLens has a HoloLens AR app dedicated to its Outlook email and calendar service.

Mark Zuckerberg said it best: “VR will be the most social platform.”

Here are four ways PR pros can capitalize on the trend and use virtual reality:

1. Humanize your brand and bring it to life.

Live video lets communicators humanize their brands with scalability they’ve never had. VR is live video’s next phase. Online communities rely on video to convey brand messages; VR video is especially good at honest, raw, inspiring content.

We can tell stories that immerse our audiences and really affect behavior. VR is a great conduit for empathy; empathy leads to action. VR video will be great for cause-related marketing.

Honest, authentic immersive content will empower a company’s internal and external publics to share ideas, opinions and lifestyles in engaging ways.

2. Prepare for crisis communications.

When I worked in healthcare, we held crisis communications simulations every few months to ensure the communications team knew how to activate the crisis plan.

Suppose you could experience crises before they happen. Would it change how your team prepares?

VR can bring crisis-prep exercises from drills to full-blown simulations. It will enable PR pros not only experience the crisis, but also deal with threats and weaknesses they might not have been ready for. VR will play a big part in corporate communications crisis plans and risk management.

3. Amplify your company’s media relations.

Members of the news media are leading the VR revolution by creating immersive content, including The New York Times’ VR and the Huffington Post‘s Ryot News.

PR pros should learn from these media outlets. When you create immersive content, think like a journalist.

News about your organization embracing VR can boost your brand. We used to send press kits, but soon we’ll send journalists and bloggers branded, exclusive VR content.

4. Get audiences to experience your organization’s promise.

Immersive builds consumer loyalty and is powerful for organizations’ teams that know what they stand for and how to communicate it. A great example is Toms Shoes. It uses VR to take customers on giving trips around the world.

Their latest campaign, “A Walk in Their Shoes,” took fans to Colombia and showed through VR the effect their shoes and donations have children’s lives. This technology will change how nonprofits reach donors and audiences by taking them—not just showing them—to where their gifts went.

How can your organization or agency use virtual immersive storytelling?

Cathy Hackl is a former broadcaster, former director of the Periscope Community Summit/Summit Live. She is a PR and social media speaker, and a nationally recognized live video consultant. Connect with her on Twitter: @CathyHackl.

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