While everyone has heard of Google Maps, Gmail, Google+, Google Spreadsheets and ‘failing’ Google Glass, virtually no one has heard of Google Story Sphere. Yet, like the former pieces of Google technology, it could also be a useful tool for small businesses. As the name suggests, Google’s Story Sphere is simply a story told within a sphere. In more technical terms, it consists of a panoramic photo of a place (which can be taken through Google Photo Sphere) accompanied by dialogue, sound effects and even a music track to ‘tell stories that truly revolve around your audience.’ Story Sphere can be used and produced through an app on your phone. Many use this as another fun app, however Google Australia’s Creative Lab director Tom Uglow has found a way to combine Story Sphere with small business. ‘We created Story Spheres by adapting the existing Google cardboard tech, and adding sound’, Uglow told Business Insider Australia. ‘Virtual reality is already an immersive experience – by bringing another sense into the mix, we are trying to recreate the feeling of being inside a small business.’ By using Story Sphere, owners can provide more of an experiential preview of their shop through the virtual reality software. Google Australia, specifically, have experimented with the technology by visiting small businesses personally across the expanse of the country. Illustrating a small business story Building a story is integral to small businesses and incorporating Story Sphere into that process could help evolve it even more. The story behind a small business can be a big selling point; a tangible, personal link that big business will always fail to entirely grasp. It also provides a face to the people running the business, enhancing its perceived trustworthiness. Crafting and conveying that story can be tricky, particularly when relying on simply words on a website. Therefore, adding the visual, audio and textual elements through the Story Sphere platform could provide potential customers with a feel for the business prior to actually visiting it. While this may seem like an expensive endeavour, the panoramic photograph can be taken by your phone, if Google Australia’s team isn’t visiting your small business personally. Potential to increase online presence Small businesses have been consistently under fire for not being proficient online. With the ability to create so much business through national and overseas online transactions, having a good online presence is critical. Furthermore, there have been missed opportunities because small businesses have not made their websites mobile friendly. This is following a change to Google’s search algorithm, which now favours sites which are designed with mobile layouts in mind. For instance, the 2015 Sensis e-Business Report analysed 1,000 businesses and revealed that only 26% of SMEs in Victoria had their websites developed to incorporate a mobile-friendly design. They also found that only 45% had done so nationally. Evidently, having a website is no longer enough to create a presence online that will make enough of an impact on a small business. So, discounting social media, could Google Story Sphere be a viable way of increasing a small business’ online presence? It could, however it is not yet a complete product – while Google Australia have experimented with the idea by travelling to some businesses personally to create their Story Spheres, currently there are no plans to offer this as a service. Businesses can, on the other hand, upload a Photo Sphere (a 360-degree photo using Google’s Photo App) onto the Story Sphere website. This can then be embedded onto a business’ website. To reiterate this further they can also put the business on the map: through a Photo Sphere on Google Maps. If someone were to look at what’s in an area, for example, the business would stand out as you would actually be able to see inside it. Moreover, Photo Spheres are created through an app on your phone, meaning that they should also be mobile-friendly if you wish to embed them on a website. The panoramic effect Incorporating businesses’ panoramic photos into Google Street View was first launched in Australia in 2011. Google named it ‘Business View’, and using the software has proved popular all over the country. Most Australian cities in Google Maps Street View now display a large number of business Photo Spheres that users can experience. The same can be said across the world, with many implementing Google’s panoramic photos to attract customers to their doors – but has it really been a successful marketing strategy for them? Sylvia Ahmadnia, manager of the Greek Island Café in San Diego, believes that it has. As part of a video of Google Business View’s success stories, she says that customers have said that the Photo Spheres ‘had made the difference between them coming here and going to another one of the restaurants’. A spokesperson for Just For Dogs, the ‘world’s first dog kitchen’, in Newport Beach agrees. Their numbers since having a Photo Sphere speak for themselves: ‘We’ve seen a clear 20 to 25% in direct impressions as a result of local searches.’ Thom Curry, owner of Temecula Olive Oil Co., considers panoramic photos to have provided another type of interactive customer experience ‘without having to bring the customer into [the] store’. Another positive owners found was that having panoramic photos makes their businesses prominent amongst the competition. ‘If you have panoramic photos and the other stores have static photos you stand out’, said Andy Griffith, co-owner of design store A+R in L.A. Story Spheres are an evolved version of Photo Spheres and while they are not yet a fully-proven concept for getting small businesses online, it is a dynamic and innovative way for people to explore a business. While a video may seem like it does the same job visually, Photosphere is more able to mimic a customer glancing around; the freedom to look where you like, when you like. Whether or not this will make a difference figures-wise is another story, but it should add another (literal) dimension to your business online. Images: “Authors Own“ ________________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. 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