How to make the first impression count with Foursquare and QR codes

Give users information they can use in the next five minutes to avoid “dis-APP-ointment”

Course: CDPR 108, Week 2
Sept, 23, 2012
This blog covers my weekly assignments and learning for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well-respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog through the fall 2012 semester as we move from A – Z in social media.

Our assignment this week was to explore QR codes and Foursquare or a mobile visual service. Our task was to use them and write about an “ah-ha moment”, as well as to provide original examples of how these tools could be applied in the world of public relations.

I found that the first click was disappointing when I used both Foursquare and QR codes this week. No deals or messages popped up as I had expected when I checked-in with Foursquare. Tips were in meagre supply. No directly related information was delivered when I scanned the code. Talk about poor first impressions.

I learned that using these tools effectively means giving people something they want or need immediately while they are on the go. Place yourself in their environment and think about what they could do in the next five minutes with the information you give them. Be specific and useful in your content selection instead of going for the general “like”. Ask, how does this check-in or link help the person using it?

Here are two examples of what not to do.

1. When I checked in using Foursquare at a Body Shop store, I had the chance to “like” the location (or not). Big deal. When I accessed their Twitter feed through Foursquare, I found a new tweet announcing 40% off everything storewide for the next two days. Great! Hold on, make that “sitewide” – I had to shop online to get the deal. “But I’m right here,” my inside voice screamed, “in your store.” I didn’t bother asking if the promotion applied in-store.

2. On Saturday, I couldn’t resist scanning a QR code on a card I picked up at a display booth at a country fair (right). The display demonstrated how methane-driven turbines can produce electricity from manure for farming operations.  As my intrepid children stirred a sealed vat of poop to power an iPod, I scanned the code.

The card had no, er, fragrance but got my kids’ attention.

The code took me to a general Facebook page with scattered jibberish. Nothing on the page was relevant to where I was and what I was doing. This, despite the fact that the website on the back of the card featured fun, interactive content that would have been more fun to explore.

In both cases, the information I received was irrelevant at that moment and there was a disconnect between my expectation and what I received.

Here are some ideas on how to use these tools more effectively for good public relations:

1. QR codes on food packaging

Consumers are demanding more information about where their food is coming from. Imagine scanning a code to get the facts on how the beef or chicken you’re looking at in the store was raised and where it came from. Using this approach to launch a new brand of organic meats, for example, would help to educate consumers and build a positive image of transparency and responsible production standards for your company.

2. QR codes on hiking trails

People who enjoy hiking tend also to be interested in birds, plants and animals. Adding QR codes to park signage could help hikers experience nature more fully and build a connection to the park or trail. Envision this: Hikers find a trail sign featuring an endangered bird that inhabits the region. The QR code on the sign takes the hikers to a webpage with an audio file of the bird’s call and stats about population decline, habitat preservation and the effects of urbanization. This information helps our hikers listen for and potentially spot a live bird, and enriches their experience of nature along the way. You’ve given them a new reason to return to the trail another day, potentially building their connection with the park.

3. Foursquare check-in at LEED-certified buildings

A new office tower is having its grand opening. The building owners want tenants and visitors to know the building has received LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Not many people know that LEED standards signify high-performance green buildings.

On welcome signage at the grand opening, showcase key facts about LEED certification and the building’s energy-saving features, and encourage people to check-in using Foursquare. Ask them to enter one of the facts listed ont he signage in the tip field (i.e., “Awarded LEED-certification in 2012”) to get a free set of compact fluorescent lights bulbs. When visitors check-in in the future, they will see a list of the building’s green features under Tips, educating the public and prospective tenants about the buidling and promoting a positive image of environmental stewardship for the owner.

Let me know if sharing my experience with QR codes and Foursquare was helpful. Leave a comment.

Last week’s poll: Do you use QR codes?

Six votes were cast with 50% of people saying they never use them. The results:

Often: 0% Sometimes: 33% Never: 50% Other 16%


9 thoughts on “How to make the first impression count with Foursquare and QR codes

  1. Tania

    Carol, your post really had me ‘LOL-ing’! Your insight into creating effective QR codes that are immediately relevant to users was certainly on the mark. I think the idea of using QR codes in a similar way organizations use social media, i.e. to develop relationships, engage users in topics and issues that effect them and to create awareness of what an organization stands for, is really an inspired way to think about how to use new digital tools. Your examples demonstrate how organizations can use QR codes in ways that do not think of users strictly as consumers, but as engaged participants.

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Thanks Tania. Coming from the financial and pension industries, all this product talk is new to me and I believe these tools are just as good for raising awareness about issues as products. Cheers.

  2. Richard Haskell

    Nice post! You make some great observations, particularly in the area of creating relevant QR codes. I had only slightly better luck than you with Foursquare, and remain not entirely convinced of its attributes. As I hiker, I liked the “QR codes on hiking trails” very much – an interesting concept!

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Thanks Richard. I think event registrations in newspapers, publications and on posters is another great use for QR codes. I will keep trying Foursquare, especially after reading Brad became the mayor of his local cafe! Where do you hike? I’m always keen to know about trails within an hour of Toronto to keep my rambunctious girls busy.

  3. P. Aardvark

    You have some clever ideas for QR codes. I particularly fancy the one about hiking trails.. although I admit that I am torn. When I was younger I went to an overnight summer camp, where all electronic devices were banned for the duration of the month. It was a true ‘woodsy’ experience, so to speak. I do like the idea of being able to share that information with hikers, but at the same time I like my woodland adventures to be free from electrical input. I can’t decide!

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      I hadn’t thought of that angle (the value of being alone with only one’s thoughts) and I think it is important to unplug regularly. Thanks for your perspective.

  4. yvonnekli

    I’m repeating what other people have already said but I wanted to say this was a great post! You’ve made a lot of good observations and your suggested uses for QR codes was very interesting, especially the one for food labels. People are becoming more concerned about what they consume and where it comes from, and the QR codes would be a useful way of communicating the information. However, I wonder how people would feel about having to whip out their phone every time they wanted to check this information out (for me, my phone would be out all the time). Anyway, thank you for your insight!

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Thanks very much. I know I have my hands full when I’m at the grocery store just trying to keep my kids from sneaking junk food into the card! But if people really want information (i.e. especially during a e. coli crisis, for example), I think they would take the time to find their phone and scan a code. And just making the information available says something about a company’s commitment to transparency and responsibility.


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