What I’ve Learned from Using QR Codes Part II

QR code in a print advertisement.
An example from an ad I created containing a QR code. I feel it is effective because it is intriguing, instructional and easy to scan.

A while back, I wrote an article about my experience in using QR codes at KVSC-FM and how I have used them personally on my business cards. Now almost two months later, I have a few more suggestions for the successful use of QR codes in marketing. QR codes are still quite the craze and I am seeing more and more show up on event flyers, print advertisements and even as profile pictures on Twitter. Many of these examples were flawed in some way and this article is meant to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

The first advice I might give is to not include a QR code on something just to have a QR code on it. I admit, I have fallen victim to this. In creating a few print advertisements for an upcoming concert sponsored by KVSC, I really wanted to include a QR code to fill some blank space in the ad. However, both kvsc.org and the online ticket site were not easy to use on a mobile device and the only thing I could think of was to have the QR code link to the box office phone number to purchase tickets. We decided to remove the QR code. Why? Although the QR code likely would have raised curiosity, the destination would most likely serve as a disappointment to anyone who scanned it. We were better off just posting the phone number (old fashioned, I know).

Another thing we can learn from the above example is that it’s usually best to link to a mobile site. If the ticket service we were using was a site such as stubhub.com, then the QR code would have been a great addition to the print ad because the user would probably be discovering something new and would be excited about using the mobile site to purchase tickets. Along these same lines, linking to my ePortfolio from my business cards was probably not the best idea as I implied in my previous post on QR codes. Although my ePortfolio looks fine on a mobile device, the text is small and navigation is difficult. When I print new personal business cards, I will link to this blog because WordPress automatically directs users to a mobile version.

Lastly, I would highly recommend using a URL shortener service such as bit.ly to create your QR code. One problem I have seen with some QR codes is that they are too dense and thus, difficult to scan quickly (if at all). I do not completely understand the science behind QR codes, but I do know that dense QR codes are not only more difficult to scan, but are also less attractive. By using a URL shortener (namely bit.ly), you will not only avoid this problem, but you will also be able to track basic analytics of the QR code. With bit.ly, you can track the number of scans, location of the referrer, if the link is being shared on social sites, when the code was scanned and whether the referral came from the QR code or from the link posted elsewhere.

For those of you who watch CSI, here’s a simple definition of a QR code:

I hope these additional tips help you in creating more effective marketing campaigns through the use of QR codes. As always, if you have any tips or questions, please comment below or send me a message on Twitter: @eric_wheeler. And remember, sharing gets you more friends!

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?

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.