A peek into Visit Philly's new virtual reality platform - Generocity Philly


Apr. 24, 2017 12:55 pm

A peek into Visit Philly’s new virtual reality platform

Digital Content Director Kristina Jenkins is presenting a case study at Friday's Tech in the Commons bootcamp on augmented and virtual reality.

Virtual view of Ben Franklin Parkway from the Art Museum steps.

(Screenshot via visitphilly.com/virtual-tour)

Tech in the Commons is supported by the Knight Foundation and organized by Generocity.
A year ago, Kristina Jenkins considered herself “a total novice” when it came to virtual reality.

That’s changed since the summer, when Visit Philadelphia, the tourism marketing agency where she’s digital content director, began the process for launching its own virtual reality platform.

Once considered inaccessible to the masses, virtual reality is now everywhere, including your iPhone; 360-degree cameras are now fairly affordable, too. (We’re setting aside the debate about whether systems like Google Cardboard have all the qualities that make up pure virtual reality, like full-motion tracking.)

And for place-based nonprofits in particular, “tech like this can be extremely beneficial,” said Jenkins, who will be speaking at our augmented and virtual reality bootcamp, Tech in the Commons, this Friday, as part of Philly Tech Week Presented by Comcast. “It’s hard to break through the noise online … and I think content like this can help destinations do that and reach new audiences with a compelling, immersive viewing experience that really isn’t like anything else.”

Visit Philly virtual reality tour Schuylkill River

Virtual view of the Schuylkill River. (Screenshot via visitphilly.com/virtual-tour)

(If you need a primer on these subjects, try our reading list here.)

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According to Jenkins, who managed the virtual reality project for Visit Philly, the 20-year-old organization has “always been ahead of the curve” in the destination marketing world when it comes to using new technologies, such as implementing social media into its marketing strategy before it became the essential tool it is today.

But this brand of tech struck Jenkins as especially appropriate for Visit Philly’s mission: Potential visitors get an immersive view into a city’s best features, thus (hopefully) improving their impression of the city and encouraging them to check it out in person.

“It was really important for us to engage online visitors with a small snippet of what they could experience in Philadelphia,” she said.

Visit Philly virtual reality tour cheesesteaks

Virtual view of Pat’s King of Steaks. (Screenshot via visitphilly.com/virtual-tour)

Development of the virtual reality project started last summer. Visit Philly picked virtual reality marketing agency YouVisit as a partner because of its previous destination marketing work with cities such as Houston and Antigua, Guatemala. YouVisit also had its own hosting platform with options for photo and video as well as virtual reality, so Visit Philly didn’t need to do much of its own web development, Jenkins said.

After a few days of filming local landmarks in October and several weeks of beta testing on Visit Philly’s website, the project officially launched in March. Jenkins couldn’t share numbers but said she’s seen some “pretty solid” use of the platform: Website visitors who engage with the tool have almost doubled their time on the site.

Here are Jenkins’ tips for nonprofits looking to take on a similar project:

  • Pick metrics early on and stick with them through development — Jenkins recommends that anyone exploring the idea of using virtual reality or 360-degree video to “really think about those goals and think about how this technology can help you get there.” How will you know your project is a success?
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle — YouVisit was open to negotiating with Visit Philly on the cost of services because it’s a nonprofit. Use your tax status to your advantage.
  • Keep updated on new technology trends. Even if they seem inaccessible now, they’ll be easy-to-access soon — “We really only know a really small amount of what it can do and what it can be, and it’s still in its infancy,” Jenkins said about virtual reality. “I think that for nonprofits and smaller organizations, there will come a time when this technology is far more accessible than it is right now.”
  • Have fun — This technology “can be approachable and it should be approached, because it’s just so cool,” she said.

This Friday’s Tech in the Commons event is sold out, but you can still sign up for the final three bootcamps, which will teach place-based nonprofits best practices for employing data visualization, live video and social communications in their digital engagement strategies.

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