When it comes to technology, everyone’s always looking for the next big thing. The edge. The special jump that’s going to make you unique. This obsession becomes exponentially true in social media, what with everyone’s practically animalistic hunt for that mythological experience known as ‘going viral.’ It’s tempting to write off this hunt for newness in the wake of over saturation with it; it’s hard to take seriously those people who treat every new thing like it’s the solution to all their problems. But sometimes there comes along an opportunity that, if you’re able to recognize it in time, can truly put your business on the map in terms of marketing.
Now is one of those times.
Virtual reality (VR), or 360 degree video (the terms mean very subtly different things, but are used almost interchangeably these days) is an immersive type of video that visually surrounds you. Best when viewed through a headset, a VR video puts you in the video, so you can look up, down, right, left, anywhere — you could literally do a double pirouette and the picture will spin/adjust accordingly, so it feels as though you’re there. Video games jumped on this early, for obvious reasons — immersion is what flat-screen games are trying to accomplish anyway, so VR is the natural next step. But, for the average business on social media, VR hasn’t been something worth investing in. The technology is too expensive, too wieldy, too time-consuming — and the videos are barely accessible to the majority of people. If you have to have a headset to watch it, your audience is severely limited.
But recently, all of that has started to change. It’s actually quite possible to make your own VR videos for not too much money, and it’s possible to share them with anyone, headset or no. The magic thing about our current moment is that people still don’t seem to realize these changes are taking place; they don’t realize how truly possible it is to make, so there’s a relatively small amount of 360 video out there. Which means any VR video can easily stand out from the plethora of posts people are inundated with, simply because the medium is still unique. In other words, you have a chance to make your marketing truly sparkle.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
The first thing you’ll need is a camera, of course. That was the biggest hurdle in the past; professional rigs can run anywhere from sixteen to sixty thousand dollars. But these days, consumer-level cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 can deftly capture 4k video and will only cost you about $230. You’ll also want a tripod of some kind (so you don’t have to carry the camera for every shot). A flexible, grippy tripod like this Joby are especially useful, as you can attach it to just about anything. For bigger projects, you’ll also want a microphone that can record in spatial audio, but for the sake of cost you may want to opt out of that all together. Spatial audio means that the sound follows the visuals — so if a door opens ‘behind’ you in the video, you’ll hear it coming from behind you. Incredibly useful for major productions, but not quite as necessary if you’re just looking to make videos to enhance your social media. Keep it simple and stick to the on-camera mic at first; once you get more comfortable, use sound to take it to the next level.
WHERE TO USE IT
When it comes to shooting 360, once you get the gear it can be tempting to film literally everywhere. It’s just so exciting! Going on a hike? Shoot it. Concert? Go live. Boat ride? Set it up! And while many of those are great instincts — it’s wonderful to showcase unique and immersive experiences — not all of them particularly lend themselves to VR. Do you really need that three-minute video of Dan microwaving his coffee in the break room?
But look! You’ll say, we can see the WHOLE break room, in every direction!
Unless your break room is renowned for a perfect recreation of the Sistine Chapel, you don’t really need to film it. A simple rule of thumb is this: If a client wouldn’t be impressed with this in real life, don’t subject them to the 360 version. You’ll lose interest and lose a viewer.
Virtual Reality is about immersion, so lean towards unique experiences, beautiful locations, panoramic views or special circumstances that highlight your business and your brand. You want to illicit a few oohs and aahhhs here, because that’s what people expect when they view 360. The medium itself will draw them in, but the content is what will keep them watching. So have fun with it, and take people somewhere wonderful.
HOW TO SHARE IT
That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but how is anyone going to view this masterpiece? A fair question. As mentioned earlier, limiting your audience exclusively to those who own a headset does not bode well for your ROI. Thankfully, headsets are getting cheaper. Google Cardboard is only $15, and even comes with free shipping. But, even better news, you don’t actually need a headset to view 360 video.
This is a somewhat controversial view among the film community, so let me clarify. Yes, those videos will be more compelling with a headset, there’s no denying that — but you can’t guarantee everyone’s going to have one of those, no matter how cheap they get. So be aware of and enjoy the fact that headsets are not absolutely necessary. There are many platforms to watch 360 videos with your phone or desktop, the most notable two of which are YouTube or Facebook. Search “360 video” on either of those sites and you’ll be taken to a long list of options, all videos accessible right there, with one click, like any other video. The only difference here is, once the video starts, you’ll notice that where you point your phone matters. Watch this shark video on Youtube or this timelapse of the northern lights on Facebook. Move your phone around. See what happens. Fun, right?
You can make that. And you can post it online. If you do your homework and put a little elbow grease into making something of quality, it almost certainly will draw in at least some viewers. VR is still just novel enough to attract viewers simply for the novelty; if make great videos, they’ll keep coming back when that novelty wears off.