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QRious? What you need to know about QR codes

29 Apr

1. Do I really need to know about QR codes?

The short answer……… yes.

From a quick tour around the careers information room I found all these examples of QR codes. I have seen more around campus, at both ends of the scale from formal alumni relations posters to informal band posters.

Four employer and event leaflets featuring QR codes

What would you say if a student asked how to use these square barcodes?

2. So how do I use a QR code?

First you will need a smartphone with a camera. Some have a QR reader pre-installed, but others you will need to download one from a store – whether you have an Apple phone, Android or other, as long as there is an app store there should be a number of apps to choose from. Search for ‘QR reader’ or ‘QR scanner’, compare the reviews and install. I use the free app QR Droid.

To read the QR code you can either take a photo on your phone camera to save it to decode later, or you can go into the app and read it immediately.

It is common for the code to simply represent a URL, so when you read it your web browser will open and take you to a specific webpage. However QR codes can encode much more, for instance they can:

  • download a business card or phone number to your phone contacts
  • bring up your registration details to sign you into an event
  • take you to a video e.g. promotion for a careers fair
  • enter event details in your calendar – save the date
  • generate an SMS on your phone with pre-written text for you to send – sign up to text updates or a reminder before the event

Lots of possibilities for creative uses.

3. How do I make QR codes?

Once you have a QR app on your phone, it is very straightforward to make QR codes – it can generate them for you in moments from a URL or contact details. You can then email the code to yourself to get the image on your computer. Alternatively there are websites that can generate a code for you for free. The image will be a jpg or gif that you can incorporate into your print marketing materials in the same way as any image.

4. Why use QR codes?

I have to admit, I have been a little reluctant to invest in mobile for the careers service as I thought smartphones were expensive and not something every student will have. However I was impressed by my colleague’s htc Wildfire, and found I could buy one outside of my contract for only £130. The contract price is low too. Much more affordable and the apps available from the Android marketplace are similar in range to the iPhone. So it is easy to see smartphones continuing to grow in popularity.

The trouble is, with more and more manufacturers succeeding in the smartphone market and using different operating systems e.g. Android or Windows, students will have a wider range of handsets. An iPhone app will only work on iPhones, an Android app will only work on Android system phones (which are made my various manufacturers). So while apps are great fun and easy to use, you are guaranteed to only reach a limited number of students unless you make apps for each system – an expensive proposition.  This is where QR codes win. They can be read on all of these phones.

Yet I have been surprised at the resistance from some quarters to using them. In particular many felt it was a fad, that not many people actually use them. And why bother if they are just a URL?

Personally, now I have the app, I think even if it has just been used to encode a URL, it makes life much easier. Typing a URL on a phone is fiddly and time-consuming. If it is a long address, for instance to take me to a particular webpage for a promotion, I won’t bother and then I forget about it. With a QR code I can immediately check out the further details, wherever I am. It is about marketing flow – you smooth the path for people to move from noticing a poster to taking action, towards finding out more, towards signing up.

Is it just a fad? Well they have been around a few years and growth in usage has been steady, but not as explosive as some predicted. The problem is that initial barrier of learning how to use them and installing the right app – this could change if more phones come with a reader pre-installed. However I don’t mind if it fails to become mainstream because unlike apps, making them is free. Using them shows the careers service is technologically aware. They are quick and easy to make. Why not just give it a trial?

Judging by the conversations I have been having on Twitter with Elizabeth WilkinsonFiona Christie, James W and Andy Stevens, QR codes will soon be hitting a careers service near you.