If you're feeling confused about Quick Response (QR) codes, you're not alone.

On the one hand, the mobile technology for decoding these boxy, two-dimensional barcodes has never been more widely available. These ingenious symbols add a digital dimension to physical objects, encoding complicated URLs that users would never attempt to key by hand, whisking them away to any Web destination the marketer chooses.

Yet skeptics point out that decoding a QR code takes effort, and too often the payoff doesn't justify the trouble. They're correct. Slapping a QR code on a handout or a poster is easy, but creating something useful on the other side takes thought and planning.

So what are QR codes good for? Plenty, if you use them wisely. Here are a few examples of what to do and what not to do when incorporating QR codes into your event.

1. DON'T use QR codes if you don't know how they'll add value

A QR code is the real-world equivalent of a clickable link. It is most useful when connecting users to a service they want right at that moment.

Chances are users aren't burning to visit your homepage from the show floor. But they may want to enter a contest, register for an event, or get access to a virtual swag bag (a convenient and environmentally friendly alternative to the notorious conference "bag of brochures").

Remember, convenient as they are, QR codes still require a small time investment. Users need to take out their mobile device, start their app—or download an app that reads QR codes—and then scan the code. That process creates a relatively significant psychological barrier. You need to give people sufficient incentive to overcome it.

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image of Eric Olson

Eric Olson is general manager, SMB, at Active Network, responsible for driving the global strategy for the technology company’s events solution.

Twitter: @Eric_Ols