Tag Archives: marketing

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.


Book review – Switch: How to change things when change is hard

14 Sep

I’m going to cut to the chase here, I really loved this book and have been wildly recommending it to everyone I meet. It has a clear message and engaging supporting examples throughout – definitely lives up to the hype. So what is it and what does it have to do with Careers 2.0?

Switch really emphasises the importance of engaging your changees with your mission in an emotional way – Find the Feeling. People respond better to individual human examples and demonstrations, than generalisations and studies. Another key step is to Shape the Path – make sure the desired action is available, reasonable and clearly specified. There are in fact 12 key points like these that can all contribute to successful culture change, but I won’t summarise them here – you can actually download for free a summary page and related materials from the Heath Brothers website – nice.

So how does it apply? Let’s say you want to bring non-users into the careers service, this example struck me right away: the canned food drive experiment. Students identified each other as people likely to give (Saints) and those unlikely (Jerks). Half the students received a general flyer about the food drive with a request for canned goods, and a location on campus to leave donations. The alternative version included a map, specified “bring a can of beans” and suggested the reader think of when they might be passing that location anyway. The general instructions got an 8% response rate from Saints, and a zero response from Jerks. However the concrete, specific flyer got a 42% response from Saints and 25% from Jerks – both groups showed increased response. So how would you write your career service marketing materials now? Would it be better to market one service at a time, like a CV check, rather than a general leaflet full of options? Too much choice can lead to analysis paralysis“where do I even start with all these services?”.

On finishing I immediately ordered the Heath Brothers other book Made to Stick, so I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of that. You might be hearing about it soon…

Loser-generated content

7 Dec

I have to admit that when I read Charlie Brooker’s article, I cheered “so true” at this description, before realising that I probably shouldn’t be…

TV advertising used to work like this: you sat on your sofa while creatives were paid to throw a bucket of shit in your face. Today you’re expected to sit on the bucket, fill it with your own shit, and tip it over your head while filming yourself on your mobile. Then you upload the video to the creatives. You do the work; they still get paid.

While looking for creative ways to promote our resources, websites and events, a suggestion which often comes up is to run a ‘competition’ for students to submit a video or image promo for us. It seems like fun, it seems like a great way to get students more involved. And yet I am not entirely comfortable with it.

Loser-generated content does not save time

Computer cat works on our next social media marketing campaign

Like herding cats

When looking at blogging, one proposal to save time writing is to get others to do the writing for you – to ask a team of students to contribute to a blog about their experiences job-hunting. I have come to the conclusion that creating the blog, chivvy-ing people to contribute more regularly, trying to gently suggest that some write shorter entries or stay on safer topics, while others should write more or stick to a sensible style, means that managing such an arrangement is more work than just writing the thing yourself.

Generating loser-generated content is actually quite a lot of work – the marketer still has to define the scheme, promote it, perhaps generate some initial content for mash-ups, then encourage, judge, promote the winner. And it can be a thankless task, with poor responses, unless you can generate a decent prize…

Loser-generated content is like an unfair, unpaid internship

Generally, we can’t offer cash-prizes or substantial rewards, we just can’t afford it. So instead it takes either more time to hustle up a ‘work-experience’ prize, or simply claim the ‘exposure’ is reward in itself, which starts to head toward murkier waters.

In the careers service we are very aware of the unfairness of unpaid internships, and the negative impact the internship culture has on diversity in certain career sectors. It is the last thing we want to promote, and we do try to vet all our job ads on minimum wage criteria. But if we offer a competition without a financial reward, are we ourselves committing this sin?

I do actually believe that making a video, poster or article can be a very good skills development opportunity. It is fun, and once you have invested the time to learn to do it once, it puts you a step ahead of many candidates in media and marketing. But it can be a lot of work to do for free – again it means only those students with the means to have a good computer with the right software and have that free time, can participate. And you perpetuate the myth that ‘exposure’ on the web is a great reward in itself. Many early-career web designers and freelance writers are led up the garden path on such promises, so why should we introduce students to this as if it is not problematic?


I wouldn’t want to bin the idea of loser-generated content altogether, as I think it can still build a sense of community involvement. I am also a sucker for getting excited about how others get creative on a proposal. So as a work-around, how about low-effort competitions?

  • Ask students to send in a photo ‘summarising the event in an image’ from their phones.
  • Caption competition
  • Add a doodle-space on event feedback forms – suggest they draw their favourite bit or point from the event, for us to scan and put in a Flickr/Facebook gallery

Hopefully it would increase participation as well? Though you can’t beat a good prize really.

Getting Twitter followers – 5 tips

12 Nov

On a previous post, Colin from the University of Cumbria, asked how to promote their new Twitter account to students, well here are some suggestions:

1. Put a Twitter badge on your careers service homepage

It is really easy to find free badges and widgets to add to your website. The main choice you have to make is between ‘live’ widgets that update constantly to display your latest tweets and static image badges. The live badges have the benefit of drawing people in, they look attractive and make your webpage look dynamic, however they do take up more space, they use Flash and/or javascript which might not work on some sites/CMS editors, and they can make your page slower to load.

Twitter "Follow me" badge

I do like this design from LimeShot - comes in a range of colours

These are just some suggestions, you can easily find more by Googling ‘free Twitter widget’ or ‘Twitter badge’.

2. Put the URL in your email signatures

You could try putting it at the bottom of general careers service emails, or perhaps even the personal signature you use when emailing students.

3. Leaflets, posters, business cards, presentation slides…

Yes the old-fashioned approach – include it on all careers service materials just as you would your website address and contact details.

4. Follow your students

This one is further down the list because it is a bit more risky and I am not entirely certain on it myself. You could use Twitter search to find likely students (guessing likely words e.g. ‘uni’ ‘lecture’, location mentions), follow them and see if they choose to follow back. Sounds laborious and stalker-ish? Yes it is. There is another way…

Go to the Find People section of your Twitter account, and you will find an option to Invite by email. You can submit email addresses in bulk. The students receive an email inviting them to sign up to Twitter, and if they do use that email address and follow you, you will automatically follow them. We trialled this approach for one of our services, pulling out a list of comma-separated email addresses from the event database. It seems to have been successful – we gained a few hundred followers, all interested students, and no one complained. I think this is less intrusive than searching people out one by one, but it still results in us following students which isn’t really necessary and some may understandably dislike it.

5. Use Twitter actively and interactively

For more organic growth, there is a simple way – tweet regularly (but not too much), tweet consistently useful and/or entertaining content, and interact with others using lots of @ replies. Post pictures and personal touches to build a relationship. By being a good Twitterer people will find you. Using @ replies will help others spot you when their friends interact with you.You might even try prompting people to RT (re-tweet) particularly useful posts you make.

So hope that is useful! I would be interested to hear of any other approaches people have tried.

Students don’t just trust everything they find online

14 Oct

That shouldn’t exactly be a newsflash, but as an information professional I know we often worry about students’ online information skills, giving them basic advice on how to search and assess the authority of information. Perhaps we are focussing our efforts on the wrong skills? This New Media Age article reports a YouthNet survey result that:

Peer review is key. Photo from glion.edu

Peer review is key. Photo from glion.edu

…58% of teenagers are wary of the information they find online and 71% cross-check online information with their peers.

They are checking the reliability of information, but not through making their own judgements, they are asking others for recommendations, and checking the effectiveness of information by comparing outcomes with each other.

Relating this to careers information, this cuts two ways. On the one hand it is reassuring to hear that young people do have safety mechanisms in place to protect themselves from poor online advice, and the popularity of careers-related forums to examine job offers and company cultures more closely is encouraging. However, since their trust comes from peers not necessarily the apparent authority of the site itself, it also means they might not take your service-provided guidance at face value either…

The New Media Age article relates to marketing messages, saying that the ‘broadcast’ model is over, that young people expect to be able to interact with your content and freely manipulate, examine, compare and discuss it with peers. Does your website offer the functionality to rate, comment and share content? If so, great! You are both going to get instant and specific feedback to improve your services, and at the same time you encourage this protective critical eye for online content – an essential lifelong careers skill.

Of course, even if you don’t facilitate this, there are plenty of other ways students can manipulate your content away from your view. Have you tried SideWiki yet? It is a new Google offering tied in with the Google toolbar, and it allows anyone to post comments about your website, to appear next to your web content, to anyone. If you don’t install Sidewiki, you won’t see it, but many others will… These kinds of services have a history of lukewarm adoption, but never have they had a name like Google attached to them. This has created a lot of nervousness as it seems an open invitation to trolls, and you can’t moderate it. Loss of control over brand reputation is always going to be frightening, but as Sidewiki contributes to the feeling of inevitability regarding this shift, the future must be to accept the change and work with it.

As I learnt at Fote09 from Will McInnes‘ engaging presentation – when Argos added the facility for users to rate and review their buys, the products with reviews had a 10% higher conversion rate (buy-to-view ratio). Web users really value transparency and it is definitely something you can turn to your advantage!

(For more on Sidewiki, here’s Google’s official introduction to the ideology and benefits:)

Careers-themed Spotify playlists – too playful for the recession?

2 Sep

Seeing this story on the Dog’s Trust “doggy disco” Spotify playlist, I was inspired by (I felt the urge to blatantly copy) their idea, to create a careers-themed playlist.

And then I got far too involved.

Apparently it took the Dog’s Trust around 10 minutes to knock theirs together, and it is really great, all classics. Me? I’ve been tinkering evening after evening, and I’m still not quite happy…

I found it difficult to find enough good songs with the word “careers” in the title, so I expanded my search to “job” and “work”. This found me plenty of great songs, but a lack of coherent listenability. Now I love making playlists, and a playlist has to really hang together. So naturally I split the list up. And now I have two, going on for three playlists…

And then I realised it was all a bit of a waste of time. I had intended to share it with students via Twitter and Facebook as a bit of fun, but eventually came round to thinking that a good number of people might question why the careers service appeared to be wasting time on something so frivolous. Given the recession, unemployment, the struggles and very real fears of new graduates, it seemed far too inappropriate.

So, just for you readers, here are:

(And they are still not up to my usual standard, but I am giving up. It was hard. There are still some gems in there I loved finding – a “Career of evil” anyone?)

On a more general note, do you find that at the moment you are trying to be more serious and less playful in your communications with students, recognising their fears, or would you say the recession has not made any difference to the tone of your marketing?