Saturday, April 9, 2011

QR Codes and School PR

The following is a guest post by Lauren Bingham from the Texas School Public Relations Association. It is cross-posted  over on the TSPRA Blog:

What in the world are QR Codes?

At the grocery store, a bar code scanner reads the bar code on your product and tells the register what it is and how much it costs. QR Codes use the same concept.

People can now use their cell phone cameras (bar code scanner) to read QR Codes (bar codes), which instantly directs their phone to a designated website, PDF, contact information, video, etc.

Sufficiently confused? Let’s use it in an example scenario. Pretend I’m a PIO at Mainstreet ISD–my district is holding a TRE (tax rate or tax ratification election) and we’re holding a community meeting next week. We’ve built this awesome webpage with all kinds of information and graphs and videos explaining how school finance works and why we need to pass this TRE. But if we just tell them about the website, we risk them forgetting to go there after the meeting, or forgetting the URL altogether.

From the creator’s end
So I take my webpage URL, let’s say it’s, and go to one of many QR Code generating websites, plug in my URL and it will automatically create a unique QR Code (just like a bar code). That QR Code has my link embedded in it so that anyone who scans it will be automatically directed to our TRE website. I can then print this QR Code on any posters or handouts we distribute at the meeting, I can make a giant display version so that anyone in the audience can scan it from their seats, I can even print it on t-shirts or stickers if I wanted to. 
You can create a personal account on many of these QR Code generator websites that will allow you to see how many people are scanning your code, change the link (without changing the bar code) that your users are directed to, password protect your code or set it to expire at a certain date.

From the user’s end
While there are tools that make this technology available on any phone with a camera, it’s really most usefully for smart phone users. All I need to do is go to the app store on my phone and download a QR Scanner app–there are a bunch out there, not all of which work as well as the next, particularly for BlackBerry which seem to have a difficult time. Then, whenever I see a QR Code I want to scan, I open the QR Scanner app, which will typically activate my phone’s camera, then point the camera at the QR Code until your camera can scan the code–just like you’d do at the grocery store. Depending on the app, it’ll typically identify the file, URL, video, etc. that the QR Code is linked to and will ask you if you want to open it.

Because there’s linking involved, this does require a wireless connection on your phone, which involves data usage and the fees associated with it. If the code links to a PDF, Word doc, Google map, calendar event, etc., these will likely be saved onto my phone; websites, however, will not be saved unless through the phone’s browser history.

So what are some other ways school districts can use QR Codes?

  • Using codes on back to school materials to link to school calendars (some tools will allow users to integrate your calendar into their phone’s calendar) or school supply lists
  • Displaying codes at the front of schools that will link to school contact information, TEA ratings, etc.
  • Displaying codes at graduation that link to do’s and don’ts, a PDF of the program or information on school-sponsored graduation night activities
  • Posting codes in teachers lounges and workrooms with links to internal communication materials
  • Collateral materials with codes to your district’s fundraising initiatives–information on branded licenses plates, website that allows them to purchase tickets for your event, online store for school/district merchandise, etc.
Considerations before diving in or writing them off
  • Consider your audience–how many of your parents or community members are using smart phones? What about students?
  • While this technology has caught fire in Asia, and is growing in popularity among the techie Westerners, many people may still be unaware of QR Codes and how they work (even if they already have the technology to use them). Before rolling out any coded materials, take the time to educate your constituency.
  • The mystery of these codes can, however, create more interest in using them and finding out what they do.
  • This technology is free for you to produce and free (besides data usage) for them to scan and use.
  • Because your codes will generally redirect users to existing content, this doesn’t require a third-party developer, or drafting usage policies, or monitoring for misuse, or purchasing expensive/complicated hardware or software. This is just a more direct way to get them from point A to point B.