Using Immersive Storytelling to Stimulate the Senses

By Annamarie Robinson

We all know what it’s like to tell an amazing story, and not get the reaction that we were hoping for. The situation could have been hilarious to us and the people who were present at the time, but it somehow lost its luster when you shared it with other people. Why is that?

Please allow me to introduce you to my new favorite storytelling approach – immersive storytelling.

Immersive storytelling transforms visual experiences using virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video. This gives the viewer the chance to feel like they’re actually a part of what they’re watching, which could be pretty useful for industry professionals.

Here at the WVU Reed College of Media we’ve been exploring immersive storytelling and decided to share what we were learning with other professionals in the region. Recently we hosted a workshop with nationally-renowned experts in digital storytelling for our friends at PRSA Pittsburgh and WV PRSA.  To find out six tips from this workshop, keep reading!     

1. Immersive storytelling opens up new opportunities, but isn’t for every story.

Not all stories require an immersive experience. You have to be very picky with the stories that you choose to tell because virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos take more time to produce. Our experts from RYOT told us that most of their videos highlight an issue of importance that people would not be able to actually experience. However, due to the memory-like feeling that immersive storytelling evokes in the brain, it makes it easier for people to “walk in someone else’s shoes” for a while (which will hopefully induce an empathetic response and a need to act).

2. Producing 360 is not out of your reach.

While some PR pros work in agencies with tons of money and resources, others work in smaller companies with limited time and budgets. A lot of these professionals use this as an excuse for not being able to tell immersive stories, and completely give up on the idea. Keep on pushing! Anyone can have access the tools that make telling these stories possible. Immersive storytelling equipment can range from $16,000 to only $200, and according to our experts, shooting on your iPhone is sufficient

3. Telling tales in immersive means taking people there.

The great thing about immersive stories is the fact that they remove the “you had to be there feeling.” Virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos allow viewers to travel to a whole different place without requiring them to actually leave their comfort zone. However, according to Ben Roffee, RYOT’s digital director, to ensure that your videos evoke this type of response, it’s important to keep them short. It only takes about 2 seconds to capture someone’s attention, so a five-minute video will suffice. Also, remember that people connect to people, so make sure that there is a human touch to your videos.

4. Opportunities from advocacy to education, and public health to tourism.

Immersive storytelling is all about taking your audience to a new place and giving them an experience. For that reason, it can be used for just about anything. Averie Timm, RYOT’s managing editor, used her platform for advocacy at the Women’s March on Washington. I have even seen 360 videos promoting tourism in South Africa. Eventually virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 videos may even be used to allow students to virtually attend courses in classrooms that are on the other side of the world. 

5. Insights and analytics help mine meaning from the mess.

As with anything that you publish, it is imperative to pay attention to your analytics. They provide vital insights about your audience and how they are responding to the content that you have delivered. Sometimes analytics serve to specifically help to contain a crisis. According to Alex McPherson, FleishmanHillard’s Director of Insights and Analytics, you must do thorough research to ensure that you are able to provide an adequate recommendation to your client or company. That research will require way more than just a Google search. There are tons of free tools such as Buzzsumo that are useful in helping to dissect your online data if you’re on a budget.

6. If you’re interested in VR, now is the time to get started.  

Since immersive storytelling is relatively new, it is still easy to enter the playing field. Everyone is on the same level, so now is the best time to become an innovator! The tools are in reach, and there is opportunity all around you. For women, this is especially important because video production is often considered to be a “boy’s club.” With the help of people like Jenn Duong, who co-founded Sh//ft, an organization promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in future technologies—anything is possible!

Telling stories through virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video may seem intimidating at first, but we all have to start somewhere. There are resources and opportunities all around you and now that you’re in the loop, it’s time to start creating! 

If you’d like to learn from one of our local experts, David Smith is happy to answer questions about 360/VR, and/or hear any ideas for potential clients interested in partnering with WVU’s Reed College of Media.

Annamarie Robinson is the public relations director for West Virginia University’s chapter of PRSSA. Robinson is a senior at WVU and will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, Strategic Communications degree in May 2017.

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