Why Institutions Should Bother with QR Codes

Cameron Pegg (@ghostwhowrites) is executive officer for the deputy vice chancellor and provost at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.

Long before advancement folk debated the merits of pinning pictures or setting up a LinkedIn page, they questioned QR codes. “Why bother?” remains a common response.

But for every black and white squiggle hiding in the New York subway, well out of mobile range, you’ll find  engaging and interactive executions if you look hard enough.

Remember that giant Calvin Klein billboard in 2010 that had thousands raising their phones to see where it would lead them? What about this artful execution from the Red Cross to raise recovery funds for the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami? And try and tell me a personalized voice message with your Christmas gift wouldn’t go down well with the grandkids or other relatives.

QR cupcakes photoInstitutions are already doing a good job of showing how QR codes can be used effectively. Maybe you want to conduct a campus treasure hunt or virtual tour. How about encouraging people to vote for a faculty member for an award, fill in an online survey or visit your mobile-friendly homecoming site? And with edible QR codes a reality, your next alumni cocktail function could become the talk of Twitter.

A simple way to use QR codes for alumni engagement purposes is to enhance your print publications. Plug in the URL to a Flickr gallery or YouTube video using a free code generator like this one from kaywa, and you’re good to go.

Cornell iPad screenshotSuch executions provide a natural extension to words and images and also offer a powerful antidote to the “Why bother?” mentality. They also help “unlock” multimedia content that all too often is hidden behind layers of webpages that most alumni will never see. Interview the coach or star player featured in a profile piece. Go behind the scenes at your campus museums and show off the collection. Get a donor to speak about what motivates them to give. You can’t show every stunning entry from a student photography prize in print, but you can in a mobile-optimised gallery accessed by a QR code. Don’t forget about the data collection opportunities either.

Some basic QR code tips:

  • Integrate codes into the design of print collateral without hiding them
  • Always test at the printer’s proof stage to ensure they scan and link correctly
  • Make it clear WHY a reader should scan them—simple prompts like “video” and “photo gallery” are often effective
  • Provide true value to the consumer with every execution (multimedia, interactivity, an easy-to-use online form, entry to a competition, personalized or otherwise “exclusive” content, a coupon. etc.)
  • Mobile optimize landing pages where possible
  • Use mobile-friendly URLs for multimedia content—this will also assist with gathering more accurate metrics.

It’s easy to dismiss QR codes as a fad, but providing you use some creativity (and apply some common sense), they may just help you engage with your alumni in new and powerful ways.


3 responses to “Why Institutions Should Bother with QR Codes

  1. Good insight, Cameron and Aaron, thank you. I agree that user adoption is a major challenge to using mobile tagging (whether the traditional bar code, or newer variants like QR codes or Microsoft Tags). Over time users will learn that they’re expected to scan the tags, and then our challenge will be to give them a compelling reason to do so. I’ve had success with short, actionable phrases. For example, “snap the code to win” worked better than “scan the code to enter to win” because it’s shorter and punchier.
    And regarding the young user or power user sentiment, I’m happy with that in two ways: first, when I want to appeal to the donor who imagines herself as young or tech-savvy; second, when I want her to know that I am too!

  2. Thanks Aaron. You’re completely right about the “nobody uses them” sentiment. And access is all-important when it comes to QR Codes – if most of your market can’t, won’t (or don’t) know how to read them, why would they bother?
    As with many things, the market adapts quickly. I remember when we first placed QR Codes in our campus magazine in 2010, we were careful to include detailed prompts (even suggesting which free scanner apps readers might use). Fast forward to now, and the codes have shrunk to about 1/3 the size, with simple “Scan me” and “Video” or “Photo gallery” prompts sufficient. Smart phone usage is rather high in Australia, however.
    Again, it all comes down to value – if your alumni can see compelling reasons why they should scan a QR Code, they will do so. Conversely, if you link any old webpage without thinking, you’ll do a good job of ensuring alumni never scan one again. Video is a good place to start – it extends/complements print communications, and provides perfect material for mobile viewing.

  3. Great article. I agree there are many effective uses of QR codes in higher ed marketing, but that the “why bother” mentality remains–supplemented by quite a bit of “nobody uses them” sentiment. My feeling is that QR codes may be a bit ahead of the (U.S.) market at this point; relatively few people are familiar enough with them to have QR readers and use them frequently. I’m curious to know what others’ perceptions are of audience awareness/use, particularly when it comes to prospective students (teens) and alumni (particularly those outside the “young alumni” category).
    Regardless I think QR codes are valuable enough that people will use them more often as time passes, particularly as marketers, publishers & others discover effective uses.

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