Social Media and Virtual Reality: The Virtual Revolution (Part 1): Marketing

Facebook, in the decade since its arrival, has become the world’s largest social media site, dwarfing any other platform for social communication before or since. Nonetheless, whilst it began as a straight-up communication platform, it has since morphed into a monster for marketing.

That goes not only for the brands and businesses who use the site as a central aspect of marketing strategy, but also for the individuals who use the platform, too. The ‘personal brand’ culture has emerged in a way that mimics the work of marketers for the individual, and – property marketers take note – consumers’ ‘personal brands’ extend to the home they choose for themselves.

Social media marketing has become so ubiquitous that a brand can hardly market itself without a presence on at least one of the major social platforms. But social media is changing, and therefore so must marketing strategy.

The Rise of Virtual Reality

2016 was the year that VR found its way into the public realm. Not for the first time, but finally in an incarnation that was worth getting behind. Though VR has been around for decades, in one form or another, it’s only now that our technological abilities are strong enough to allow mass adoption.

However, as CEO of StoryUP, Sarah Hill, puts it: “We are in the ‘brick cell phone phase’ of VR”. In other words, it’s early days. But the tech is developing at a rapid pace, with the greatest minds in Silicon Valley and beyond squirrelling away at the task of building the biggest and best VR hardware and software against their competition.

Facebook famously acquired Oculus Rift in 2014, and at the time many people wondered what on Earth a social media site would want with what was widely accepted to be a gaming console. Now, as things move in an increasingly virtual direction, it is becoming ever-clearer as to why.

A VR Facebook will be on the cards before long; we can already see the germs of it in the integration of 360 video capability on the site. So how can marketers get ready for this new direction? And, more specifically, how can property marketers harness the power of virtual reality for social media?

Property Marketers, Social Media and Virtual Reality

Marketing is, of course, all about understanding the people to whom you wish to sell. As Mark Zuckerberg puts it:

“Virtual reality is the perfect platform to put people first because of presence.”

It is this sense of presence that is so central to what we do as property marketers. Buyers and agents alike are aware of how difficult it is to get a sense of a property from a two-dimensional photograph, whether online or in print. Virtual reality places the purchaser right at the centre of their buying experience, furthering their sense of engagement with the property; they are more able to develop an emotional connection that facilitates their drive towards purchase.

The good news is that the change isn’t going to happen overnight. Such a monumental shift needs to be rolled out gradually, and Facebook knows this. Both Facebook Live and 360 video constitute phase one. We have been introduced to phase two through the Oculus acquisition which implies what’s coming next.

But while Facebook is matching its pace to the consumer adoption rate of VR (which is still somewhat behind that anticipated), marketers need to be looking further ahead. Indeed, the outside appearance of Facebook’s progress is actually the tip of the iceberg, with a huge amount of hard work driving incremental developments behind the scenes.

Marketers should be VR icebergs, too, looking hard for innovative strategies they can use to gradually move their social strategy in a virtual direction.

Beyond Facebook: Augmented Reality, Apps, and Social Integration

Of course, Facebook is not the be-all-and-end-all of social media marketing. In fact, there is a social media platform that’s much younger than the Facebook behemoth, and it’s making in-roads in the augmented reality space that are a property marketer’s dream come true.

Snapchat’s augmented reality filters seem frivolous at first glance. Give yourself dog ears, a big chin or sunglasses, or make cartoon clouds vomit rainbows in your bedroom. But looks can be deceiving, as augmented reality is a weapon in the property marketer’s arsenal that you cannot afford to ignore.

In our recent whitepaper, and supplementary articles, we have discussed how augmented reality can be integrated into a winning property marketing strategy. But how can this relate to social media?

Read Part 2 of this series: Personal and Brand Communication on Social Media

The answer is through app-building. Imagine you are marketing a property from a showhome. You create a QR code that visitors to the showhome can scan to download an app you have created for your brand. The app, using space-mapping technology (such as Google Tango), allows the user to hold their phone up whilst viewing the property, and overlay the camera image on their screen with virtual elements: furniture, paint colours, curtains, etc, from affiliate retailers. Allow users the function of videoing their progress on the app, integrate social uploading functionality to the app, and you have widened the scope of your audience reach exponentially.

Househunters make no secret about their property purchase journey on social media, and many will excitedly share a 360 video version of their custom designed AR home on their social platforms. Add a watermark for your brand in the corner, and a link to your site or own social page, and that’s a lot of user-generated content for your marketing campaign.

Socially-integrated app creation, combined with 360 video, is a good way to be ahead of the changes happening in social media as part of the VR revolution. Even without an app, 360 video is your best friend when promoting properties on your social media platforms.

Where potential buyers can view a series of 360 videos of the properties you’re currently marketing direct from their smartphone, this will help them narrow down the number that they will go and see in person (thus saving both themselves and the agents time and money). Most 360 video can be augmented for use on basic VR devices like Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear. When the user clicks on a 360 video on your company Facebook page, they can pick a ‘VR’ option to have the video opened in VR, engage their Google Cardboard, and view the property in virtual reality without leaving their sofa.

You can even send out branded Cardboards (which are extremely cheap to have produced) to all potential buyers in a specific area, with an accompanying letter with QR code linking to either your app or Facebook page.

So, 360 video is the ‘now’, but what about the ‘next’?

There is a lot of talk in the tech world about fully immersive social ‘universes’. For example, High Fidelity (Second Life for the VR generation), Sansar, vTime, and the Oculus ‘Rooms’ software. These are still early-stage models, but the former two, in particular, have a lot of potential for property marketers. Stepping into a virtual world, househunters can open the door to your virtual ‘marketing suite’, which could be a full street of architectural visualisations of the properties you are currently marketing. They can wander around the virtual walkthroughs freely, in real time, before making an appointment to view any in which they are interested, in real life.

This is the future of property marketing, and though we are still in the early stages, now is the time to start making those first, introductory steps to position your agency at the forefront of the next era.

If you would like to learn more about the sectors within the Property industry that will benefit most from these technologies, and the ways in which this will happen, then be sure to download our whitepaper ‘How Virtual and Augmented Reality Will Revolutionise House Building and Property Marketing’.

Download our Whitepaper Revolutionary Tech – How Virtual and Augmented Reality Will Revolutionise House Building and Property Marketing:

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