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Six QR Code Do's and Don'ts for Events

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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.

2. DON'T use QR codes where there is no Wi-Fi or cellular connection

This should go without saying, but if your event won't have Wi-Fi and the cellular connection is spotty, which is often the case at convention centers and big hotels, you may want to reconsider using QR codes at all.

3. DO provide a mobile event app with a QR-code reader built in

Event-goers are busy running to different sessions and networking with as many people as they can before the end of the day. If you plan to use QR codes at your event, you should know that the latest mobile conference technology has QR code reading built in. And if you needed yet another reason to offer an app for your event, this is it.

Such apps not only provide attendees with maps, schedules, surveys, instant news updates, people finders, and other social features but also offer you a powerful source of real-time intelligence about the performance of your event. When you have hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of people interacting, checking-in and exchanging information with QR codes, you receive a stream of data about your attendees' actions and preferences that you never had before (more on this below).

In short: you should provide a mobile app, and you should make sure it has a QR code reader.

4. DO use QR codes to check people in at your event

The registration and check-in line is your attendees' first experience with your event, and usually one of the worst. Who likes lines? By allowing attendees to print out confirmations with QR codes ahead of time, or even to display check-in codes on their mobile devices, you can have staff roam the line with mobile readers and check people in on the spot, accelerating registration many times over. Again, doing so takes advance planning, but the results more than repay the effort.

Event organizers can watch the progress of their event with real-time knowledge of who and how many people are checking in. If any issues or bottlenecks come up, you'll be aware immediately so that you can address the situation as soon as possible.

5. DO use QR codes to create game-time excitement

By relying on people's natural competitiveness, organizers can use QR codes to drive attendee behavior via "gamification." For instance, they can encourage attendance and participation at sessions by offering prizes for people who check in via QR code. Or they can draw crowds, educate prospects, and qualify leads by offering a prize for attendees who check in at a certain number of sessions.

6. DO use QR codes to measure the value of a handshake

People attend events for two major reasons: to learn and to network. A major frustration for event planners is their inability to track and measure attendee behavior other than session attendance. That is where QR codes are especially helpful.

Event mobile apps allow attendees to exchange contact information with a simple barcode scan. Instead of filling their wallets with business cards that will collect dust back in the office, they can exchange the profile information they provided when they signed up for the event.

From there, marketers and event organizers can analyze the data to see how many contacts were exchanged and how many meetings were set up, giving them a meaningful new way to measure the performance of their event. Similarly, they can track the most commonly downloaded content and who visits which exhibitors. They can evaluate which attendees are the most avid networkers (potentially contacting them with special offers for next year), and which exhibitors on which parts of the floor are attracting the most attention.

Best of all, they can use such information to improve the next event and ensure that key attendees and exhibitors keep coming back.

* * *

In sum, QR codes are one of the most powerful tools marketers have for bridging the divide between the face-to-face world and the digital. You'll be able to analyze the ROI of your event with a precision previously available only with online campaigns. It takes planning, but the rewards are as real as your bottom line.

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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

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  • by Dax Callner Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    I'm still waiting to see an event attendee actually snapping a QR code...maybe one day.

  • by Brooke Candelaria Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    While the rate of participation remains quite low, I'd also offer:
    1. Do strategically place QR codes within the event to ensure they are fully visible (not blocked) and a decent enough size for easy capture. You can include graphics outside the code with teaser copy.
    2. Do train all event staff on the codes so they know exactly how to use them, what the content is, why you have them, and how to download and use a QR code reader (if it's not embedded in an event app).
    3. Do make sure the content is not only valuable, but relevant to that event and different from the usual website content. Maybe it's a video that was shot onsite prior to the event start that supports a big announcement or launch, for example.

  • by Jessica Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    I would add another DON'T for adding QR codes to website pages and email! You're already online! Buttons and hyperlinks are the way to go in these instances. Unless someone can share a reason to put a QR code on a webpage? Take it 'to go" on your phone, maybe.

  • by Event Aficionado Thu Feb 28, 2013 via web

    I'd check out I know they're releasing an app soon that will do much of this.

  • by Mike Caha Fri Mar 1, 2013 via web

    Great article and conversation. I'd also add...

    1) Track the performance of your QR Codes through analytics. Having real-world real-time data can help inform how you adjust your efforts and roll out future events.

    2) Brooke's comment about training event staff is excellent. I'd recommend i-nigma as a top notch QR Code scanner in case your event's app doesn't already have one built in.

    3) Ensure your QR Code is highly "scannable." Having proper contrast, size, and data-density (i.e. embedding short URLs into your codes) in your QR Codes helps ensure that all smartphone users can scan your codes without problems.

    - Mike (Professional QR Codes at

  • by Bill Finn Fri Mar 1, 2013 via web

    The tips are right on track. QR codes are a mechanism that must facilitate or deliver on a user experience. Events and trade shows are great environments for QR codes to convert a mobile, online experience into a live, in-real-life sales conversation. When your business user experience has a defined objective, the strategic opportunities for QR codes become much clearer - they're a great way to link customers to an experience without fumbling through long URLs on a mobile device. At (full disclosure, I'm the CEO), we've had very interesting experiences working with events to gamify the experience - the most successful events happen where the proper prior planning occurs with the whole team involved. Our measurement tools then allow for frank, data-driven evaluation, where assumptions are validated against real-time performance metrics.

  • by andy Sun Mar 3, 2013 via web

    I would like to know why people don't use the QR codes very often even though they can provide some very useful information and backrounds for events?

  • by traci browne Thu Mar 14, 2013 via web

    I have a couple to add based on experience with them this week on pre-show mailers I received from exhibitors.
    1. Make sure the code actually works (you would think this would go without saying but five out of eight did not)
    2. Send me to a site that is optimized for mobile...if it's impossible to read on my phone what's the point?
    3. Don't send me to a form with 15 fields I need to fill in to register to get what you said you were going to give me.

  • by cathlyn Sat Mar 16, 2013 via web

    Great tips. Some people just add QR codes for the sake of having it. They donít really understand its real use and value. Wisely used, this code can bring great customer interaction to a business or event. Read a few more handy tips about QR codes in

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