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 opportunities
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 close 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.