Best Practices When Implementing Virtual Tours

Moshe Blackstein, administrator, Beth Abraham Care Center

The COVID-19 pandemic has required senior care facilities to largely close their doors to the public, and that includes potential residents and their families who wish to visit the facility. This has created a marketing challenge, but virtual tours have offered a solution.

Not only are virtual tours ideal during this time, they also offer many benefits that can continue on after the pandemic has ended.

How Facilities Have Seen Success With Virtual Tours

Virtual tours have allowed senior care communities to continue to provide a much-needed service. “Part of the demand that we have now is trying to meet the needs of our clientele in a very different way,” explains Moshe Blackstein, administrator at Beth Abraham Care Center.

“Unfortunately/fortunately, the need for the service we provide is very relevant for the community around us.” The challenges of the pandemic required the care center staff to find innovative ways to reach and service the population, while still keeping potential residents and their families comfortable.

“Previously, people were able to come inside and take a look at our facility, see what we have to offer, and develop comfort with the environment and staff,” says Blackstein. “We needed to find an innovative way to still make the experience as palpable as possible, and we felt that a virtual tour would be the nearest equivalent to that.”

The care center had been working on virtual tours on a more general basis, and the pandemic provided an opportunity to put that work to use. The care center team took the tour implementation task upon themselves. They heavily rely in iPad use to conduct tours. After receiving a tour request, the facility schedules an appointment. Tours are largely conducted by staff, mainly from the concierge or recreation departments.

Elie Schiff, administrator, Brooklyn Center

For Elie Schiff, administrator at Brooklyn Center, virtual tours provided a solution to additional challenges. “My facility has a unique situation – we actually moved buildings during the pandemic,” explains Schiff.

The center was previously in a small, older building and transitioned to a brand-new much larger fully renovated hospital on August 18. “We did a few virtual tours in the old building, but weren’t actively advertising that physical space.”

One in the new building, Brooklyn Center implemented virtual tours companywide. “We want to show off our new beautiful facility, and we’ve taken it to another level,” says Schiff. The center has created videos of the interior, conducts live virtual tours via Facetime, and is using technology to show off the pride in the new building.

To accomplish this, Brooklyn Center staff worked as a team. Both the admissions concierge and assistant administrator are highly involved. The team created a virtual tour that’s recorded, as well as videos showing the inside of the building. Staff also conduct live virtual tours via Facetime.

Different Ways to Use Virtual Tours

Virtual tours are a versatile tool that facilities use in many different ways. Live virtual tours allow staff to interact with potential residents and families in real time, answering questions and personalizing the tour experience. But pre-recorded tours offer many benefits, too. They can be powerful marketing pieces and are easily shared on social media, through email, on websites, and more. Facilities may see the most success by using both types of tours.

Anthony Passeri, VirtualTECH Design

Virtual tours are allowing businesses to not only continue connecting with the public, but to also do that in different ways. Anthony Passeri of VirtualTECH Design notes that clients have been inventive in implementing virtual tours.

“I saw one client create a QR code in a magazine that linked to their virtual tour. Others are using social media heavily and scheduling “tour times” to guide would-be visitors one-on-one through the tour in real time. I’ve seen email signatures with links to “click here to view our virtual tour” as well as press releases announcing their creation. Lastly, some are incorporating videos and interviews directly into the virtual tour, which gives the experience of touring the facility more of a “human” element,” says Passeri.

Virtual tours can themselves be a source of different types of marketing materials. “These tours can be used as capturing collateral – I can go in and pull out high-resolution photos or 360’s of a certain spot,” explains Mark Adams, cofounder of ScenaVR. “A client can put that 360 on Facebook to generate activity, instead of putting the full tour up. The 360 is small in size and makes a nice teaser.”

Adams also utilizes Mattertags, which are digital interactive dots contained within Matterport tours. “A client can add PDFs, forms, video, and drone video into a tour,” he explains. “When you’re in the tour, it keeps viewers engaged. For instance, in the activity hall on the grand piano, you could have a dot saying, “This piano was donated.”” Mattertags can include details like the specifications of a room or a link to a form that a client can fill out to start the intake process. With this technology, self-guided tours become interactive and more engaging.

“As far as tour results, I think all of the feedback I’ve gotten is best summed up by a client, who is a facility owner in New York,” says Passeri. “He said, in a testimonial, that our “product of virtual tours has really helped my sales tremendously, especially these days when people need to virtually get the experience before deciding.”

Common Challenges When Photographing a Virtual Tour

Preparing a recorded tour will require an initial photo shoot of the facility, and this brings some common challenges. “A healthcare facility doesn’t screech to a halt just because a virtual tour photographer shows up. In fact, most facilities hardly even notice,” explains Passeri.

“So, the most common challenge is the logistics involved in photographing a living, breathing facility. To overcome this challenge, we make sure we communicate with the staff as much as possible to pick a time that works best for all, and to be sure the directors of each area are appropriately prepared for our visit. But, frankly, it seldom works according to plan, so we always expect the unexpected, and we always budget more time than is usually needed to complete the shoot.”

Proper lighting and space preparation are common challenges when creating a virtual tour, explains Adams. “We have software that tells us where the sun will be, and light can trick the camera or hide some spots.” Adams requests that shades are opened 75% and that room lighting is dimmed to get the perfect capture. He also provides clients with a checklist of items to declutter that includes everything from having toilet seats down to closing garbage can lids.

Deciding what to include in the tour is another challenge for facilities. Passeri noticed this challenge early on and adapted by taking more panorama shots than the client thinks they need. With these extra shots, clients can later narrow down what’s showcased in the tour, rather than having to schedule a second shoot.

“Writer’s block” is fairly common when administrators and admissions staff try to determine how to label different areas, how to describe the spaces, and what content should be contained in any voiceovers. “We have various examples available to present options to the facility team of what similar facilities have done. This can help them to decide what details to add,” says Passeri. “We also assure clients that we can always change descriptions and scenes at any time should that wish arise.”

Schiff adds that staff did initially struggle with the unfamiliarity of virtual tours. “Many of us weren’t as polished as we thought we would be talking to a camera versus talking to people. It took away some of the natural elements – we had to work on using hand motions. The camera doesn’t talk back to you,” he notes.

Best Practices to Ensure a Virtual Tour Is a Success

Passeri notes that it’s important for a facility to prepare for a virtual tour photo shoot, but cautions against over-preparing. “You never want to present a false image, but you do want to show your facility in its best light, so a certain degree of staging may be necessary,” he says. Passeri also recommends that a facility select the right virtual tour provider. “You want a team that is familiar with HIPAA and its implications, as well as the logistics involved in photographing an active, 24/7 healthcare facility.”

When it comes to deciding what elements to include in a tour, Passeri recommends that a facility think about what they would show to a visitor if they were conducting an actual on-site tour. “Would you normally start at the entrance, then from the lobby go down the hallway to the dining room, then past the nurses station, then to a resident room? Then try to make sure all those areas are included in the virtual tour,” he recommends.

“Sometimes a facility will make the mistake of having virtual tour scenes of literally every singe area, which can be a little overwhelming for people viewing the virtual tour online. Make sure you show all of your highlights, but not everything in your facility.”

Adams recommend that facilities start the process of developing a tour by assessing their overall marketing and having a conversation with a professional who can show you how much marketing the tour replaces. “The number one thing I’ve found is that sometimes we’ll go in and a client will say, “We had a photographer, we want to do this.” If they’d called us first, we could have pulled that photography out of the tour,” he explains. By investing in a Matterport tour first, a facility can pull out short teasers and photos, amounting to big savings in their marketing budget.

Best Practices When Conducting Live Virtual Tours

Live virtual tours pose their own set of challenges. These guided tours require that staff be comfortable with the technology and the experience of being on camera. “It was a new reality for everybody, and you can never make up for the personal touch,” says Blackstein. “That is the biggest obstacle – conceptually understanding that.” He adds that virtual tours make for a fine substitute, allowing for interaction with staff and giving viewers the chance to see the facility.

Blackstein believes that interaction is the most successful component of virtual tours. “The virtual tour in the sense of seeing the facility is one component, and being able to interact with a person on the other end is equally if not more important. We’re trying to develop that sense of interaction. We’re not just saying “visit our website.” Instead, we’re going to have someone from our facility conduct the tour with you.”

Ensuring a Successful Tour

A virtual tour, whether it’s recorded or guided, is a powerful marketing tool for facilities both during and after the pandemic. Schiff recommends that if a facility is creating a recorded tour, they invest in the undertaking. “Spend the extra dollars, because it’s a one-time cost that can bring unlimited admissions,” he says. “Prepare and make that area you’re touring really beautiful. Go the extra mile because it could go a really long way.”

Passeri adds that facilities shouldn’t stress too much over the process. “It may seem like a big undertaking, but a good virtual tour provider will guide them every step of the way on what the next steps are, what is needed from them, and when it is needed.”

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