What I’ve Learned from Using QR Codes

Intrigued? Scan this QR code with your mobile device to see where it takes you!
Intrigued? Scan this QR code with your mobile device to see where it takes you!

QR codes are the latest marketing craze. The QR, or Quick-Response, code was invented in 1994 by a Japanese company called DENSO Corp., a subsidy of Toyota and was initially used to track parts in vehicle manufacturing. Though QR codes have been commonplace in Japan for some time, they are only just now becoming popular in the United States. With over 73 million smartphone users in the US, marketers are embracing the technology in some very unique ways. In this post, I will give a few examples of how I have used QR codes at KVSC 88.1FM, at a personal level and what I have learned along the way.

My first venture with QR codes was in promoting “Superheroes of Trivia,” KVSC’s annual Trivia Weekend. The poster I was designing for the event was to resemble a retro comic book with a modern twist. After I had placed a traditional (non-scanable) bar code at the upper left of the poster to make it look more like a comic book, I got the idea to make it interactive by using a QR code.

Superheroes of Trivia Table Tent.
I used a QR code in a table tent for Trivia Weekend.

The idea was simple enough; I would place a QR code on the poster and have it link to an MP3 file that could be changed out with different audio files. This seemed like a great idea because this was for a radio station that was running a three-part promo on air and we could use the poster to bridge a connection to the series. However, it didn’t quite work out. The QR code worked fine, but the audio file would only play on Apple devices. When the audio file was opened on any other device, it would not play due to some type of Apple encryption with MP3 files. So I learned two things:

1. Always test your QR code on multiple devices/operating systems.

2. It’s better to link to an HTML document with an embedded audio file than to link directly to the source.

Also for Trivia Weekend, I placed a QR code on a table tent (shown above) encouraging students to volunteer for the event. The QR code simply linked to our volunteer resource page on the KVSC website. Though not as cool as opening an audio file to be entertained by a three-part trivia epic, the QR code on the table tent raised curiosity and drove traffic to kvsc.org.

QR Codes on Business Cards
On my business card, I used a QR code to link to my online portfolio.

At a personal level, I am in the midst of an aggressive job hunt and have placed a QR code on the back of my business card. Most people use QR codes on business cards to link to contact information. Personally, I have linked it to my online portfolio at eFolioMinnesota.com. I feel this is more appropriate for me since I am advertising myself as a job candidate and not myself as a business. Another tip to keep in mind when creating a QR code is to make sure the link is easy to use on a mobile phone. I initially wanted to link the QR code to my about.me page because it is much more visually appealing. However, it takes too long to download on a mobile device and is simply not sized correctly to be viewed on a 3.5 inch screen.

Another way to avoid compatibility issues with a URL or media file is to simply link to a text file. This can be used to direct the user to take further action or act as a coupon with instruction to the customer and cashier on how to redeem the offer. A good example involving text was with the concert venue First Avenue promoting an upcoming concert. A QR code was posted on its Facebook wall with the caption “We’re going hi-tech with today’s Etix ticket giveaway and it’s a doozy. Decode the QR for your chance to win.” When scanned, the QR code directed users to a text which simply read “Leave a comment with where First Avenue tickets will be available this Friday.” This is a great use of a QR code because it not only integrated social media, but also prompted users to learn about the venue’s new online ticket purchase option (eTix).

Here’s a list of ways I’ve heard of QR codes being used:

What are some ways you can think of to use QR codes? Do you think QR codes will be around for a long time or are they merely a fad? Please comment below, and remember: Sharing is fun!

**UPDATE: Read “What I’ve Learned from Using QR Codes Part II.”

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iPhone App Review: Instagram

Great Wall of China taken this summer and edited with Instagram.
Great Wall of China taken this summer with a Nikon D90 and edited with Instagram.

Let’s call this my first iPhone app review. In my very first blog entry I promised to throw in some posts on photography. Living up to that promise, I want to talk about one of my favorite iPhone apps: Instagram. This is the perfect iPhone application for someone who’s into art and wants to share his/her world with others through photos.

Taken from the Instagram website, Instagram is “a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures.” The app definitely lives up to its motto and it is super easy to use. All you do is choose a photo (either by taking one using the app itself or by choosing from your iPhone’s camera roll), apply one of the filters, name the image and you’re done! The app even has the option to apply tilt-shift to make your pictures look miniature or more mysterious by blurring the edges. In short, Instagram is a great way to make otherwise boring or uninspiring photos come to life with simple filters. The photo in my Gravatar at right was manipulated using Instagram and I now use that same image across all my social media platforms (this might be a good time to attribute the photographer: Danielle Morris).

Photo of a bar in Rapid City, S.D. with tilt-shift applied.
Photo of a bar in Rapid City, S.D. with tilt-shift applied.

The Instagram iPhone app also is very much a social media application and even mimics some of the same features as Twitter. Users can create hashtags, use @mentions, add a location and follow other users. With photos of people you follow showing up in a photostream, Instagram is essentially Twitter, but with photos. Another fun aspect of this iPhone app is that you can send your creations out across a number of sites supporting photos. I typically add a location via Foursquare and send the photo to Facebook or Twitter (sometimes both). The photos you see in the sidebar at right are Instagram photos synced to my Flikr photostream.

The one drawback of Instagram is that the actual website is worthless from a user standpoint. Although every Instagram photo published on another site has its own URL, the site contains no way to share the image, comment or rate the photo nor does the site contain links to any other photos. Basically, the site does not support user profiles. This is a little frustrating and disappointing all at the same time. However, I’m sure the developers chose to keep the website simple and maybe they are still laking the infrastructure needed to host the nearly 300,000 photos uploaded each day. This means Instagram is limited only to iPhone users (as well as  iPad and iPod Touch users).

I found a donut shop that had bacon on their donuts!
I found a donut shop that had bacon on their donuts!

Many organizations are using Instagram already and it will be interesting to see what type of marketing campaigns will be launched using the app. I currently follow NPR, the Boston Celtics and MTV just to see what type of images they come up with and to see how they are using Instagram to connect with their audience. Although KVSC-FM does not have an Instagram account set up, I have used the app to create interesting photos to post on the station’s Facebook wall. Organizations with a larger following could easily conduct contests or use the app for awareness efforts of national or worldwide events. How do you see Instagram being used as a marketing tool?

Life is Different with a Smart Phone

wheeler has an iphone
I was pretty excited when I got my iPhone...

More specifically, life is different with my Apple iPhone 4. I think most people see me as a tech savvy person, mainly because my Tweets and my blog focus on social media and its relation to the field of public relations. Anyone who knows me at a more personal level knows I cannot be away from my iPhone for more than a few minutes. However, it was only a few years ago when I purchased my first cell phone and only a few months since I upgraded my seemingly worthless Sony Ericsson slider phone.

I waited as long as I could to purchase my first cell phone. I was a sophomore in college when I finally walked into AT&T to start my first plan. This came as a necessity. I was president of my fraternity and vice-president of the student body at the time and I was always needing to contact someone and having to go home to look up a number and make the call from my dad’s land line was not very practical. So I caved in and bought my first phone.

As I upgraded phones through the years, I gradually started using more and more features–from text messages to video–my phone was becoming more important. When I put my slider phone through the wash a few months back, I decided it was time to make a true investment and upgrade to an Apple iPhone 4.

I was never really satisfied with any of my prior phones and this was a major step for me, which coincidentally came with a larger monthly bill. I ultimately made the decision based on a plethora of needs. I was becoming more tech and social media minded and I felt this would be the perfect way to really help me become more influential in the social media world. Besides that, I was forgetting things all the time–meetings, deadlines, due dates of class assignments, etc. Getting a smart phone would hopefully alleviate some of these problems.

Sure enough, I was able to sync the handy email and calendar to my Google account and now I get notified anytime something important comes up and I almost never forget anything. Google apps makes it easy to search by typing in keywords, speaking into my phone or even by snapping a picture–so the answer to any of life’s questions are always just a moment away. I downloaded Textfree so I could send unlimited text messages without running up my monthly bill. I downloaded a few games to keep my attention when I’m bored (may I suggest Angry Birds?). I have several photography apps for my creative side (instagr.am is awesome). I have several news apps so I always know what’s going on in the world and most importantly, I have several social media apps to help me build my online reputation.

In short, I feel lost without my iPhone and I am always using it, tweeting, checking email, reading news, checking weather, using the GPS and of course communicating with friends and family. Lastly, I would pitch the iPhone 4 specifically for the FaceTime function. It’s great to walk across campus while video chatting with a friend. It’s even more fun to FaceTime with to my niece in Texas who I never get to see.

Blog inspired by Mary MacDonell Belisle.

Who Uses Bing?

Google is clearly the winner.
Google is clearly the winner.

Consider this my first rant. I know, I know … it’s been nearly two weeks since my previous post and I should have something more interesting to discuss and, believe me, I do. However, “Who Uses Bing” is the first topic listed on my blog ideas I have saved in my iPhone notes. This topic actually came to me when I watched my professor go to Bing and type in “Google” before actually doing his search. Let me know in the comments section below if you have ever done this.

Bing is terrible. That may be a bit harsh, it’s not like I know anything about search algorithms, but seriously, Google is just a lot better. It was only a couple years ago when Microsoft formally launched its new search engine site and changed the name from the boring “MSN Search” (Live Search and Windows Live Search–also terribly boring names–were also used) to simply “Bing.” I remember watching some of the fabulous network news anchors poking fun of the name and trying to predict if people would start saying “Just Bing it!” as we all do with Google. Pretty sure I have never heard anyone use Bing as a verb and I don’t think I ever will. Well, there is the clever tagline “Bing and decide” used in it’s advertisements, but come on.

Okay, this is more of a rant than I wanted it to be, so let’s just head over to bing.com and see if the search engine can explain to me why Google is better. After reaching bing.com (which I typed in on my awesome Google Chrome Web browser), I proceeded to type in “why Google is better than Bing” and the auto-complete finished after typing in “why Goo,” nice. At least they’re playing fair and not trying to block certain search terms. Anyway, I came up with this nice article in the number two spot (the first site was an article from 2009 stating that Bing is a competitor, but it is not a “Google Killer”), which contained the 10 reasons why Google is still better than Bing.

There’s no reason to try and list my top 10 reasons; I think the above mentioned article speaks for itself. However, I say Google is king of search because of a few key reasons. First off, Google was founded as a search engine company and has always kept the focus on speed and finding the most relevant, pertinent information regarding the user’s search term. Secondly, Google really optimizes the user Web experience through additional tools such Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail and much, much more. Finally, Google has done an outstanding job of integrating its search function into mobile platforms. Google Goggles, voice search and the entire iPhone app is a great addition to the mobile experience.

I think I’ll finish there before I get into a rant on why I think even Yahoo! is better than Bing. Somehow Bing has managed to overtake Yahoo! as the world’s number two search engine, so I guess I’ll congratulate them on that.

Then I saw my Life in Pummelvision!

I believe I came across this gem of an idea a few weeks ago via TechCrunch. I immediately fell in love with the concept: Pummelvision flashes your life before your eyes using photos from around the web. What Pummelvision does is it collects photos you already have posted to Facebook, Flickr, DailyBooth or Dropbox and puts them into a short, high quality video, which automatically uploads to Vimeo or YouTube. What really draws me in is the intense music and high-quality photos that flash by at a perfectly fast rate.

After reading the article on TechCrunch and watching their video, I went straight to the site and uploaded my own Pummelvision (above). It turned out to be a great way to showcase some of my photography over the past couple years. The only negative I found is the site takes a day or two to process your video, but that beats me trying to do it myself. Another downside is there is only one soundtrack. However, I can appreciate that decision–the site is trying to maintain simplicity, and since they went with such a unique and fun score, I’ll deal.

It will be fun to see creative Pummelvisions by photographers and people who lead interesting lives. Photo apps for mobile devices and social photo sites are all the rage these days and I could definitely see Pummelvision teaming up with Instagram and some other leading mobile photo apps in the future. I would definitely like to see NPR’s Instagram photo stream in Pummelvision.

The site has some of the better videos featured in gallery form, and YouTube is already gathering quite the quantity of Pummelvisions as well. My favorite so far? A collection of photos of cups of coffee. Now I don’t even like coffee, but with the music, speed and variety of coffee mugs and surroundings, this video is pretty sweet.

Wheeler Now Blogs

Yep, I finally caved in a started a blog. Being obsessed with social media and a graduate student of public relations, I thought it was a good idea. Plus, I didn’t want to be showed up by a former hockey player. Also, I recently purchased an Apple iPhone 4 and am now even more entrenched in social media, public relations and communications in general. In other words, my iPhone has taken over my life. I can’t go anywhere without checking in to Foursquare and I am always on the lookout for interesting articles that I can post on Twitter (which is connected to my Facebook profile).

I mainly plan to use this blog to open discussion on trends in social media and public relations. However, I also have interests in advertising, photography, marketing, and traveling, among other things. So I may sneak in a few articles not necessarily related to PR and social media.

Here’s a little background on myself: I was a communications intern for Yum! Brand, Inc., the world’s largest restaurant company, worked as a sales manager and TV station manager for a few weeks in Woodward, Okla., graduated with a bachelor degree in mass communications  from Northwestern Oklahoma State University, spent a year and a half as a leadership and educational consultant for Acacia Fraternity in Indianapolis and I am now a few credits away from earning a master of science degree in mass communications with a track in advertising and public relations from St. Cloud State University.

I currently hold a graduate assistantship at KVSC 88.1FM on the campus of St. Cloud State University. At KVSC, I am charged with a number of responsibilities including (but certainly not limited to) public relations, social media, graphic design, online services, promotions, and marketing. Also at St. Cloud State, I am a member of PRSSA and a senator of the College of Fine Arts and Humanities.

That’s enough on me for now. Subscribe to my blog for future stories about the wide world of social media and public relations. Okay, I lied, more on me via a YouTube video of my experience of No Shave November: