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360 Video and Nonprofits: Is it Right for You?

360 videos are all the rage these days. Whether it’s just a trend or here to stay, nonprofit organizations are wise to pay attention to them, and ask the right questions before jumping on the (super cool) 360 video bandwagon.

Let’s first look at the basics of 360 video, and then explore a few key questions you’ll want to answer as you consider whether it’s a good fit for your organization’s mission. 

What is 360 video?

360 video is a video where (nearly) all angles are recorded simultaneously, using either an omnidirectional camera or multiple cameras at once. Video is then “stitched” together during processing, which results in a video where viewers can control their focal point. This control could be through a remote (like with Google Cardboard); a physical motion (e.g., turning one’s head or body while viewing the video through a mobile device); or by hand (e.g., clicking around with a mouse or moving your finger on a mobile screen). 

360 videos are popping up everywhere — sometimes under the arguable misnomer “VR video” — among lots of different kinds of organizations. To name a few interesting, diverse instances, consider: 

Visit YouTube and search for 360 videos to explore others.

Why 360 video?

The long and short of it is this: immersion. Just as with other types of VR, 360 video gives audiences a view into an experience. While other VR may allow for interaction, 360 video is a pure viewing experience, but with a greater sense of atmosphere than traditional video. 
For many organizations, this is a fast track to empathy. Allow viewers the opportunity to become immersed in a scene, give them something to empathize with, and provide them with a clear call-to-action that maps to your goals. From here, engagement can soar and the result can be incredibly effective.

However, as with most things in life, it’s not as simple as that. Let’s look at three things that need to be in order before making an impactful, awesome 360 video that not only aligns with your organization’s goals, but also makes an impact on your viewers.

Question 1: Can I accomplish this with traditional video?

Sure, sure. Normal video may seem boring next to the flashy 360 iteration, but in reality, they’re critically different media. Try watching a bunch of 360 videos in a single sitting and you’ll start to see why: 360 video is all about immersion in a scene. Characters are important; however, the environment itself often plays the lead role. 

How can you best answer this question? Run your idea through a traditional video filter first. If your ideas check all the boxes, it will most definitely be cheaper and easier to execute as a regular video in the long run.

Question 2: Do I have a good setting? 

As environment plays such a key role, you want to make sure that your 360 video has a setting that (a) viewers are excited about, and (b) showcases something out-of-the-ordinary. For example, putting your viewers in an unsettling environment (for better or worse) has a much stronger impact. For example: 

  • Inside an animal shelter, in the middle of a row of barking dogs
  • Inside a prison during lunch time
  • Inside a training session for astronauts
  • Alongside an urban climber’s hike up a famously tall landmark
  • In the nest or den (lair?) of an endangered critter
  • Behind a conductor as she conducts a world famous orchestra

The key is to find your impactful setting. If you struggle to find one, bring others into the discussion. And if that still doesn’t work, perhaps it’s worth revisiting Question 1. 

Question 3: Can I afford it? 

If you’re starting from scratch, 360 video is definitely an investment. You will need access to special cameras, special software, creative lighting, good sound equipment, and the time to storyboard, execute, edit, polish, and publish your video. While it can be a truly effective and worthwhile investment, be sure to make your best estimate and determine if it’s right for you and your team. 

Next step: get those ideas flowing

Before storyboarding, go to YouTube and watch a ton of videos with either your VR headset (which makes it MUCH better), or simply on your mobile device or desktop. You’ll get a good handle on what makes for a good experience pretty quickly, and get ideas on how you might bring elements into your own 360 video.

Photo credit: Gamma Man

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