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%


Like them or not, QR codes have their place

Foreword: This is my first blog post for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog for the next nine weeks as we move from A – Z in social media.

Course: CDPR108 Week 1

Predicting whether social media tools will be darlings or duds has practically become a sport. This week’s course readings offer contrasting opinions on whether QR, or “quick response”, codes are awkward or effective for moving consumers and audiences from print advertising to websites and affecting sales. (Read “Why QR Codes Won’t Last” and “QR codes are Not Dead”.)

Critics complain that QR codes are technical, unattractive and usually don’t offer more or better information than the print ads provide. Worse, too often they link to websites that are not optimized for mobile devices. Trying to read a website on a hand-held device is hard on the eyes, not to mention annoying.

“Not dead” isn’t much of an affirmation, but not everyone is down on QR codes. Proponents like scannable codes when they are used creatively. And who wouldn’t? If you can come up with a great product demo or compelling story about an issue that matters in your industry, why not help people find it by placing a QR code on a print ad or package, for example? Isn’t that better than not helping them find it?

QR codes “on the rise”

In a June blog post (Will Augmented Reality Spell the End of the QR Code?), communications and technology expert Shel Holtz argues that “despite the amount of contempt in which a lot of people hold QR codes, they’re on the rise, not the decline.”

He counters a ReadWriteWeb report that suggests augmented reality, or AR, will cause the demise of QR codes. The report claims AR has “huge advantages over current print-to-Web promotional tools”, such as:

  • it doesn’t require print space; and
  • it can be applied to existing movies, advertisements, vending machines, buildings and many other things.

Shel admits to AR’s growing appeal but doesn’t buy the argument that QR codes are fading fast. Instead, he cites research findings from Scanbuy (a company that offers QR codes) and Scanlist showing the use of QR codes is increasing. (He found both reports on Digiday.)

  • Scanbuy’s study claims the number of QR codes it processed has risen 157% over the same period last year.
  • Scanlife’s report says it found that 86% of marketers surveyed were planning to use QR codes this year.

Moreover, Shel reported that he is seeing QR codes used more often and in new ways recently, such as floor-to-ceiling interactive advertising installations in his local mall. He goes on to list several other reports and anecdotal evidence that the use of QR codes is expanding.

QR codes are useful

While I agree QR codes could look more appealing, I believe the idea behind them – a barcode for a specific web link – is a good one. I primarily use QR codes in magazines. I like those that give me more information on the items I see in an ad, such as customer reviews or information on where and how a product is made. If I were building a campaign with print and online components, I would not miss the opportunity to include a QR code as long as I had the time and budget to develop interesting and useful content. A note alongside the code explaining what type of content is available is also a must for me before I will scan.

For now, I will side with supporters who believe QR codes have their place and will continue to exist. But remember that tools are just tools: Content is king.