Posted: July 10, 2020

10 Steps for RCFE Virtual Tours

Residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs) are implementing various protocols from federal, state, and local guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Senior living facilities have been affected severely by the global pandemic, and efforts to ensure a safe and secure environment continue to progress in order to protect the vulnerable older adult population.

Due to social distancing and other public health precautions, many RCFEs have opted for virtual tours over in-person visits in order to showcase their facilities to interested families.  Although there are some companies that provide services and software to create 3-D renderings for virtual tours, there are also less expensive and free tools that can be used. 

Below are the ten steps to consider when giving virtual tours of an RCFE.


Step 1: Decide what kind of virtual tours you will offer

There are two main types of virtual tours: 1) pre-recorded virtual tours and 2) live virtual tours.  There are pros and cons for these types of virtual tours, and it is best to offer both in order to reach the highest number of potential clients. 

Pre-recorded virtual tours have many advantages.  These tours can be published on various video platforms, like YouTube and Vimeo, in order to be shared and watched at any time and by anyone.  These tours also save RCFE operators time since they only need to be filmed once.

Live virtual tours require more coordination but have the advantage of engagement with people receiving tours.  These tours provide the opportunity for interested clients to direct the tour to rooms of interest, ask questions, possibly interact with current residents, and have more autonomy over the virtual tour.  RCFEs can schedule live virtual tours with individual people, families, or larger groups of people.  It is important to have experience with the platform being used for live tours.  It is recommended to have several test runs with these platforms, like Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, etc.  It is also crucial to understand various metrics and limitations of the platform used.  For example, Zoom only offers free use for 40 minutes.  Therefore, time management and proper communication with clients is necessary in order to conduct a successful virtual tour.   


Step 2: Decide what equipment to use

Various equipment can be used for virtual tours, but the most cost-effective tool is a smartphone.  Many smartphones, like the iPhone and Androids, can produce high-quality videos.  The basic equipment for a cost-effective and quality virtual tour include: 1) smartphone, 2) lapel mic, and 3) gimbal or stabilizer. 

Although not completely necessary, the second most important piece of equipment that will greatly enhance the virtual tour is a mic.  Media research suggests that many people will watch a video with great audio and low-quality video but will not watch a high-quality video with bad audio.  A simple lapel mic can make the biggest difference in the experience of virtual tours, especially for live tours where people may be asking questions and constantly communicating during the tour. 

A phone gimbal or other stabilizer is highly encouraged when giving RCFE virtual tours.  Gimbals range anywhere from $5.00 to $250.00 depending on the gimbal capabilities and brand.  Using a gimbal will significantly improve the video and movement through the facility and provide clients with a smoother and more enjoyable experience. 


Step 3: Decide between someone being on camera or using a voiceover for the tour

Depending on the equipment and staff availability, you need to decide on either having someone on camera during the tour or just having a voiceover. 

It is best to have someone on camera, especially during live tours.  This creates a connection between the RCFE staff and potential clients.  Families want to see who will be taking care of their loved ones and want to be able to interact with a live person in an engaging way. 


Step 4: Prepare the facility for the tour

Be sure to do some cleaning and staging of your RCFE before the tour.  Clean and prepare typical rooms that are shown during tours.  It is also a good idea to schedule live tours during lunch time or activities.  This is because the tour should reflect what it is actually like during the average day, and potential clients would appreciate this insight.  

Another significant consideration is the lighting inside your RCFE.  For filming, it is important to have consistent, bright lighting throughout the facility.  Be sure to open all curtains and blinds to allow as much natural light as possible, in addition to turning on all lights during the tour. 


Step 5: Tips for filming virtual tours

For tours of any type of facility or home, hold the camera or phone in a landscape orientation in order to show a wide view of the space and rooms.  Hold the camera as steadily as possible, keeping the frame at a viewpoint that reflects the natural human perspective and height.  When moving through space and showing rooms, pan the camera from left to right and vice versa most of the time.  Avoid panning in multiple directions, up and down then left and right, too much because this may create motion sickness, especially if the cameraman is not moving slowly.   


Step 6: Isolate unique niches and features within your RCFE

Start with the entrance and rooms of interest during virtual tours.  After these rooms, showcase unique niches and features of the facility that may be appealing to potential residents.  If your RCFE has a large patio, activity room, or additional safety features, highlight those special areas. 


Step 7: Capture outdoor areas to emphasize curb appeal and liveability

It is also important to show the outside of the facility during a virtual tour.  Is the facility easily accessible from the road?  Is there parking space for visiting family members?  Does the backyard provide safe space to relax?  All these questions can be addressed during the tour when displaying the outside. 


Step 8: Technical considerations for virtual tours

For pre-recorded tours, it is important to consider loading times on the platforms used to host the videos.  Even if you conduct live tours, you can do a screen recording of the tour and post this tour as well.  Be sure to get your residents’ and/or their families’ written media consent before recording a video tour.

For optimal viewing, you should always upload the videos to a video streaming service, such as YouTube or Vimeo. YouTube lets you upload videos for free, while Vimeo has a monthly fee but gives you more control over how your video is displayed on your website.


Step 9: Reference virtual tours in materials and electronic platforms

Once you publish your pre-recorded virtual tours, maximize the exposure of these videos by referencing them and linking them in various materials and electronic platforms.  Share these tours on your Facebook page, put a link to the tour video on your email signature, or blast an email to your listserv featuring the new virtual tours and where they can be accessed.  


Step 10: Use other listing assets to supplement virtual tours

Supplement virtual tour videos with collateral material like photos, floor plans, and room descriptions.  If you recorded a live virtual tour, follow up with the attendees and email them the video tour along with supplemental materials. 

Providing virtual tours of your RCFEs allows for more engagement and communication with potential residents during this time.  These virtual tours enable RCFEs to continue promoting their business in a simple, adaptive, and low-cost way.