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.”

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?

PR in Social Media: Owning up to Mistakes

Just like Homer Simpson, we all make mistakes sometimes.
Just like Homer Simpson, we all make mistakes sometimes.

In my last post, I talked bout the power of social media on a personal level as it relates to St. Cloud State University choosing to eliminate homecoming. I had a short anecdote I wanted to include, but omitted due to my goal of keeping posts at 500 words or less. The anecdote was about a typo I had on a Facebook post for KVSC on homecoming being eliminated at SCSU:

“Top story at kvsc.org today: St. Cloud State University to climate Homecoming.”

Not sure what “climate” homecoming is all about, but people started making fun of the typo almost as soon as it was posted. Although the headline was posted as KVSC, I was the one behind the typo (or auto correct more specifically). So once it was called to my attention, I had to make a choice: remove the original post (also removing user comments) or own up to my mistake with a personal remark.

Being a PR guy, I felt it was important to be transparent and admit the goof up. So I simply replied to the post (with my name and face next to the comment) and made a little joke out of it with a reference to damnyouautocorrect.com.

Many social media experts believe it is important to always put a face with a company status update. Personally, I feel it depends on the type of post. Posting an article that is “trending” on your site should not require a face behind the post. However, if there does happen to be a typo, whoever made the error should own up to the mistake.

Lastly, just as a reporter should never remove an article with a factual error, a company should never remove a post or tweet with a mistake. It is much more professional to admit fault. Plus, admitting your mistake can only create more impressions and build credibility as a reputable source of information.

Thankfully, this was merely a typo and not anything offensive. Some celebrities and journalists alike have made “jokes” on Facebook or Twitter that have turned out to be quite offensive and created backlash from their followers. Check this article out to learn of a larger-scale mistake and how Kim Wilson suggests handling a “Twitter Faux Pas.”

I should mention I had a mistake in my last post as well. When I omitted the part about my mistake, I left a sentence in that was completely out of context. It was up for a few hours before I noticed it. Can’t even remember what it was now. Did I just break my own rule of owning up to mistakes?

University Axes Homecoming, Social Media Lights Up

SCSU 2010 Homecoming Logo
St. Cloud State University eliminates homecoming.

During a live interview at KVSC 88.1FM, News Director Chris Duffy spoke with St. Cloud State University Student Government President Amanda Bardonner where she revealed the university’s plans to eliminate homecoming. Duffy waited towards the end the interview and caught President Bardonner a little bit off guard. He knew the news was big. Before ending his day, he made sure it was up at kvsc.org.

The next day, I opened up TweetDeck and noticed a heavy amount of mentions for @KVSCnews and in my “KVSC” search results. The story generated over 30 mentions for KVSC on Twitter, which is far greater than the normal one or two tweets per day from the same few listeners. As the director of social media at KVSC, I found it necessary to post the news on the station’s Facebook page as a ‘trending’ story.

The story generated 30 some KVSC-related tweets and 2,000 impressions on the station’s Facebook page, but that’s not my reason for writing. Why I’m writing is because this is the first time I really saw the power of social media at a personal level. After posting the story on the KVSC Facebook page and throwing out a couple retweets for the station, I did the same for my personal accounts.

Being from Oklahoma where homecoming is very important to most schools–even to my small regional university of roughly 2,000 students–I found this news to be quite shocking. Even though I had heard talks of doing “spirit events” throughout the semester instead of homecoming, I really did not think that was a serious notion. So, like many students and alumni, I did my duty to broadcast the news to as many in my social network as possible.

My first action was just a retweet. I then headed over to Facebook to post a link to the KVSC story with my headline of “What can we do to save homecoming at St. Cloud State University?” The story was cross-linked to SCSU’s Facebook page and it got a little bit of attention on my wall and a few people voiced their opinions because of it. I then read an article by the Star Tribune and found a quote I felt summed up my opionion on the matter and headed back to Twitter to post that link:

“I’ve never heard of it [eliminating homecoming]… They must be doing something wrong…” http://j.mp/hzLYUX #scsu

This is where I started seeing the power of social media come to life. This is pretty much where my homecoming rants ended. I was going about this rather passively as I was working on my final comprehensive exam for graduate school. I then received a tweet from @Aeikens who was putting together a story for the St. Cloud Times. We got in touch and before I knew it, I was doing a phone interview with Dave Aeikens (reporter).

I ended up having several quotes in the paper the next day with a block quote on the front page of State & Local. I also ended up on KSTP with my name and picture from my posting on Facebook. Pretty cool. Maybe I’ll go after that sweet social media internship for Charlie Sheen.

Learning Skills from KVSC’s Biggest Annual Event: Trivia Weekend

In front of my billboard for Superheroes of Trivia.
In front of my billboard for Superheroes of Trivia.

KVSC 88.1FM’s 32nd annual Trivia Weekend recently came to an end. Trivia Weekend is a staple in Central Minnesota and consistently sees around 70 teams compete in a 50-hour non-stop contest with nine questions asked over the air every hour. The questions range from sports and popular culture to science and general history with many theme-based questions asked throughout the contest.

This year’s theme “Superheroes of Trivia” was especially fun for the competing teams and question writers alike. The questions are very tough as the writers attempt to “Google-proof” them and the contest is complete with audio sound bites and visual trivia. This is a great contest and is one of the longest-running annual events at St. Cloud State University.

Personally, I never really get too excited about hearing the questions over the air or for putting in volunteer hours for this weekend-long event. However, this being my second year as a graduate assistant at KVSC, I did get excited about putting my public relations knowledge to the test and in exercising my social media and graphic design skills in promoting Superheroes of Trivia. From designing the promotional poster to teasing the Trivia Weekend junkies via Facebook and Twitter, I had a lot of fun building some hype leading up to Superheroes of Trivia and in keeping the conversation going in the social media world all weekend. Most of the design work was based on the poster and included designing T-shirts, small flyers, images for web/social media and even a billboard (pictured above).

Promotions for Trivia Weekend began before the theme was even picked in July. With social media, we were able to get trivia enthusiasts involved by including them in choosing a theme. By creating a social media contest around the idea of helping us pick a theme, we were able to interact with our audience and make them feel more closely connected to the station.

The privilege of being a graduate assistant at an award-winning college radio station has been the perfect supplement to my academic career at St. Cloud State. Jo McMullen-Boyer is a great station manager to work with and she really gives me a lot of freedom to make my position at KVSC my own. The position is mostly geared around creating content for kvsc.org and general public relations for the station as well as some basic graphic design when necessary. The freedom to make the position my own means I have put a strong focus on building the station’s social media platforms and driving traffic to its website. I also get to work on my skills as a photographer at concerts and other special events.

Soon after Trivia Weekend came to a close, postings on our Facebook page were popping up thanking the station for making the weekend so much fun and on what the theme should be for next year. Sadly, I graduate in May and am (hopefully) moving on to bigger and better things and will not get to contribute to picking a theme or teasing the “trivia junkies” via social media during the months leading up to Trivia Weekend. I’m sure my successor (whoever that may be) will carry the Trivia Weekend promotions torch well.

Tutorial: The Social Media Contest

How would you do a social media dance contest? I would use YouTube of course!

Feel free to consider this part three of my Twitter tutorial. In this entry however, I will walk you through the steps of a social media contest at KVSC 88.1FM where we incorporate both Facebook and Twitter. So far at KVSC, we have only done concert ticket giveaways as a social media contest. We are planning to do a costume contest during Trivia Weekend to coincide with the theme Superheroes of Trivia. That contest will be on Facebook only and participants will post photos of themselves in their superhero costume on our wall and winners will be chosen by number of likes and comments. That should be fun.

The process is really pretty simple and it gets even easier when you limit the contest to just Twitter (Mashable has a great “how to” on Twitter contests). First, decide what your marketing goals are–create brand awareness, find out more about your customers, increase engagement, etc. Once you decide why you are doing a social media contest, figure out how you want to achieve your goals. At KVSC, our main focus is to increase engagement with our listeners and hopefully drive traffic to our website and to increase overall listenership.

Second, you need a game plan. Now that you know your marketing goals, it’s time to lay down some rules. This is almost too simple for something such as a concert ticket giveaway. For Facebook, just state the rules in a status update. That’s basically it. Remember to tag appropriate pages (in this case KVSC and First Avenue) and provide any additional links. Here’s an example:

KVSC – 88.1FM is giving away ONE pass to ALL CONCERTS at First Avenue & 7th Street Entry for the remainder of 2010! Simply hit the “Like” button at the bottom of this message to win! For and additional entry, visit http://twitter.com/kvsc881fm and retweet the contest message. Visit http://www.kvsc.org/ for full details.

Then do the same on Twitter, only now, you are restricted to 140 characters or less. Also, you may want to add a unique hashtag to monitor and help in promoting some aspect of the contest (or your company, cause, etc). Remember to use @mentions where appropriate:

@kvsc881fm – giving away ONE 40th Anniv. Pass to ALL concerts @Firstavenue for ALL OF 2010! Retweet to win! http://kvsc.org/ #KVSC1st_ave

Be sure to have information on your website with full details and promote in anyway possible. For KVSC, we usually make an on-air push and promote in our monthly e-newsletter. Once you have made your posts and promoted the contest a little bit, sit back and watch. When the deadline comes, compile all the valid entries and draw a winner (or winners) from a hat. Notify the winners and do a simple follow-up to everyone else via another post, and you’re done!

The best thing about social media contests is it’s very easy to measure your success. For Facebook, look at the number of likes, comments and any increase in new people who like your page. For Twitter, count the number of retweets and any other interactions.

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: