You know someone’s been in social media communications circles for a while if the conversation ever drifts to talking about Second Life, created by Linden Labs. For a brief period in around 2006/2007, Second Life, a platform that allows users to create avatars and interact with other characters, was seen as the next frontier in advertising, marketing, and PR. While experiments in using the platform to buy and sell goods and services in “real life” fizzled, the platform did find acceptance and adoption in some fields, such as education—and many educational institutions continue to use Second Life to this day.
Now, Linden Labs has a new concept that is being tested, called Sansar. Sansar is a “true” VR experience, unlike Second Life which is a virtual world rendered on a computer monitor. The Sansar programing will allow an individual—“even a person with minimal programming skills”—to create VR experiences.
And, if individuals can do this, so can PR pros. But what would the benefits of creating VR experiences be to the PR and communications fields? Is this something that might catch on?
It certainly could. Some communications pros are already dabbling in using VR to pitch stories, such as the Amnesty International example mentioned previously on Media Bullseye. By immersing members of the target audience in an experience, conveying messaging becomes far more “real” than an explanation or story in the written word, even if the written piece is compelling. An immersive experience such as VR also commands more complete attention; having a VR headset on might reduce the chances of distraction. It’s less likely the wearer will dart off to respond to a Tweet in the middle of your “pitch”—they will be wearing the delivery device.
VR can potentially be used for a lot of PR communications, particularly with situations or clients with complex issues that are difficult to convey in writing, but are easier to show; and this is where being able to easily create VR experiences comes in. It could also be used to figuratively put people in situations that they normally would not be permitted to be in, such as dangerous situations (active construction sites, fighting fires, war zones, etc.), potentially biohazardous or “clean” sites (an outbreak of Ebola zone, or a high-tech manufacturing site with “clean rooms”), or simply areas that are so far out of the way it’s either hard or very expensive to get there easily.
Communications for hard-to-reach or hard-to-describe situations and topics will get a great deal easier as VR becomes more widely adopted. Indeed, using VR for communications could itself lead to more rapid adoption, particularly when working with journalists who have seen their travel budgets and overseas bureaus slashed in cost-cutting measures.
The notion that communications could once more be redefined by technology that is on the cusp of broad adoption might seem intimidating, and to a certain extent it is. As PR professionals we should always be thinking about how messages can best be relayed, and how to increase the impact of communications. The promise of developments such as Sansar is that creating VR worlds and experiences may become more accessible to the average tech user. If we’ve learned anything from the explosion of user-generated content, it is that once the creativity of the general user is unleashed by making the creation experience user-friendly, human interaction with content changes. We need to be ready for this next wave.