Fraustino, Julia Daisy, Lee, Ji Young, Lee, Sang Yeal , & Ahn, Hongmin (2018). Effects of 360° video on attitudes toward disaster communication: Mediating and moderating roles of spatial presence and prior disaster media involvement. Public Relations Review, 44(3), 331-341. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2018.02.003

Public relations practitioners have increasingly embraced visual media technologies such as 360° video, augmented reality, and virtual reality to engage in immersive storytelling. Such visual-based digital storytelling is posited to have the potential to influence a variety of desirable responses such as increasing narrative transportation, narrative engagement, empathy for story characters, and a variety of attitudes, emotions, and possible behaviors related to the story’s topics. However, research has yet to explore the effects of public relations content displayed using these delivery formats in crisis or disaster scenarios. Thus, this work aimed to provide empirical evidence of the effects of media modality (traditional unidirectional video vs. 360° omni-directional video) on viewers’ attitudes toward the perceived helpful impact of video content. A laboratory experiment revealed that 360° video featuring a natural disaster’s (flood) response and recovery increased positive attitudes toward the content in comparison to the same content viewed via traditional video. Mediation analysis probed the underlying mechanisms, showing that a sense of spatial presence underpinned these effects, and the mediating effects of spatial presence were attenuated by indirect experience with a similar disaster (i.e., involvement with similar disaster media coverage). That is, the hypothesized moderated mediation model showed conditional indirect effects of modality on attitudes toward the content via a greater sense of spatial presence for participants who were relatively low in involvement with media coverage of past similar disasters, controlling for prior direct experience with flooding.

Ultimately, in addition to holding practical implications, this research provided four main contributions to the literature: (1) as perhaps the first article to examine 360° video in crisis public relations, it offered a fruitful area of inquiry into immersive digital video technologies to integrate into theory development; (2) it added to a growing body of research attempting to move crisis investigations beyond organization-centric reputation and legitimacy concerns toward audience-centric outcomes such as, in this case, attitudes toward the credible helpful impact of disaster communication; (3) it gave a voice in public relations research to the concept and role of spatial presence in media consumption and response, especially in relation to immersive media; and (4) it answered calls in public relations emerging technology literature to supplement single case studies or particular social media tool-specific observations to address causal relationships among variables and their underlying mechanisms.

A laboratory experiment randomly exposed participants to watch a short clip featuring flooding aftermath and cleanup in either 360° video modality or traditional video modality. Participants then filled out a questionnaire to report their attitudes toward the video content, sense of spatial presence while watching the video, level of involvement with previous flood media coverage (indirect experience), and previous disaster experience (direct experience). Data were collected April-September 2017 from a convenience sample of 81 university students to test hypotheses using mediation analysis.

Key Findings

  • The 360° video modality was more effective than traditional video modality at generating viewers’ more favorable attitudes toward the disaster video content (as credibly helpful and impactful).
  • The 360° video modality was more effective than traditional video modality in generating viewers’ sense of spatial presence (i.e., the sense of being inside a mediated environment).
  • Viewers’ sense of spatial presence mediated the positive relationship between 360° video modality and attitudes toward the disaster video content.
  • The mediation effect of 360° (vs. traditional) video on attitudes toward the disaster video content through a sense of spatial presence was dependent on viewers’ level of involvement with past media coverage of flooding. Specifically, controlling for previous real-world flooding experience (direct experience), the mediation effect was significant only for those with low levels of involvement with flooding in the media (indirect experience).

Implications for Practice
Science has not yet caught up with industry realities in all the ways that can meaningfully inform practical use of immersive digital media technologies such as 360° video, augmented reality, and virtual reality. This study looked to provide some initial insights into how visual media modality might influence viewers’ perceptions of the content. It found that 360° video content boosted publics’ attitudes toward content by increasing a sense of spatial presence (or being there in the scene). This was the case especially for a particular public that might be difficult to capture attention from with disaster communication: those who did not become involved in prior media coverage of similar flooding. The sense of spatial presence they experienced in turn resulted in stronger, more favorable attitudes toward the content. Attitudes are strong predictors of behaviors in many settings, so it follows that immersive video technology could be successful in transporting and influencing possible donors or volunteers who otherwise would not have devoted attention to flooding content—although research should further test this assertion.

Moreover, the video in this experiment was shot using an ordinary camera and tripod, and it showed flooding scenes devoid of voiceovers, music, captioning, or discernible visual story arc. Despite the humble setup, there were significant differences in viewers’ responses in comparison to using the traditional modality. Thus, simple videos made with affordable equipment and watched on everyday viewing devices can still cause viewers to feel as if they are at the scene, which can cause them to feel more positive about the content—another insight relevant for the many public interest communicators operating on tight budgets with minimal (or no) staff.

Article Location
The full article is available for purchase at:

Twitter ID
Julia Daisy Fraustino: @JuliaDaisyPMC

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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