Coming Around to Facebook 360-Degree Videos

Fixed-direction videos? That’s soooooo 2015.

Let’s talk about Facebook 360-degree videos, the new kid on the crowded Facebook block. First appearing on Facebook’s News Feed last September, these videos allow you to click and rotate moving images in the same way you’d navigate a Google Street View. Better yet, mobile users can explore the scene by spinning with their phone.

For marketing purposes, 360-degree video is the first accessible application of the virtual-reality trend. With the social media giant leading the way, immersive video content will be a major talking point for marketers and media publishers in 2016.

Spin Class: 360-Degree Video 101

First, if you haven’t jumped into a 360 video, I recommend calling shotgun on this desert cruise from the smash-hit film Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

You can see other examples on Facebook’s 360-degree video hub, including videos from Discovery, GoPro, “Saturday Night Live” and VICE. What’s made the Star Wars clip so popular can be attributed to an unprecedented and futuristic degree of user control. But we’re also being treated to a perception of access, and in these early days that invitation alone is the story.

You’ve been hearing it for years: Brand accessibility is a critical driver for building customer loyalty. Immersive videos fit an accessible brand strategy in two ways: Viewers get an open-book pass to your brand’s world (be sure to dust!), and secondly, viewers take an active role in your storytelling experience, whereas traditional videos limit their role to patient observer.

This interactive experience will be an equally attractive lure to user-generated videos, promoted brand content and even 360-Degree Video Ads, which Facebook is currently testing. As it did with auto-play videos, Facebook is betting on a News Feed so rich with 360 videos that immersive ads won’t feel intrusive. In pairing 360 ads with the acquisition of Oculus VR, Facebook is strategically setting the table for virtual reality as a household staple.

I’m particularly a big fan of this Disney 360-degree video, wherein Goofy plays the part of Walt Disney World tour guide. It’s a natural, playful fit for the brand, and 360 videos will benefit marketing programs with a “You should be here” selling proposition.

Immersive videos can also put the viewer in shoes that fit a defined brand identity. For example, Samsung’s “Be Fearless” campaign features a breathtaking 360-degree view atop the Sky Tower in New Zealand. If you don’t like heights, Samsung wants to help you overcome that fear in a virtual setting. And you learn at the end of the short clip that people bungee jump off this platform—something I won’t be doing any time soon.

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Another Win for Video

Facebook’s push for immersive videos (and Instant Articles) should help move marketers to prioritize mobile content in the new year. Incredibly, 47% of Facebook users login only on the mobile app. Those users will increasingly expect content that doesn’t just play well on mobile, but was designed for a mobile experience. I predict that major campaigns in 2016 will build up from the mobile platform, engineering the desktop version secondarily.

As long as the demand for mobile content graduates steadily, so too will video production. Facebook has seen its video views double since April, and 60% of those occur on a mobile device. The emergence of 360-degree videos will surely drive more users to the app for the easily accessible, unique viewing experience.

To help attract more 360-degree videos to the site, Facebook launched a microsite with audio and visual best practices, uploading guidelines and analytics support. While that all sounds lovely, the technology is so new and expensive, that your average user will likely trail brands significantly on the creative timeline. That makes for a huge opportunity for marketers—especially those with experienced and daring video teams—to set the early bar.

Facebook’s 360-degree video capability represents a high-risk, high-reward option in a crowded field of video platforms and the live streaming trend. VR and Oculus Rift capabilities will only add to visual marketing spend in the new year as that technology becomes more prevalent. Immersive or not, videos will play a major role in how we share, educate and tell our stories in 2016.

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