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Social Media and the Fate of QR Codes
04 Jun 2012

Social Media and the Fate of QR Codes

A couple of years ago, we encountered a little story about something called QR codes. Born in Japan as part of the car industry , QR codes were coming to America as a mobile marketing device. At the time, it seemed like QR codes were at the perfect place at the perfect time. Easy to scan, QR codes could make a 2-dimensional print page come to life. When visiting a trade show for one of our clients, we saw a magazine where scanning a QR code enabled you to take a tour of the company’s facilities. What a great way to make a “traditional” corporate profile come alive! More than that, QR codes seemed to be the perfect bridge between the increasing desire to track and measure leads and the growing onslaught of mobile devices.

It seemed like it was the answer to many different prayers.

The bad rap

Not too long ago, Larry Clayman wrote about why QR codes are now getting a bad rap. The bottom line is that people got so excited about the technology they didn’t stop to think about the best way to use it. We’ve seen a lot of QR codes mindlessly slapped on to ketchup containers, shampoo bottles and more with no explanation as to what it is or why you would want to scan it. We’ve seen QR codes appear on websites, which doesn’t make much sense. If you’re online already you can just type in a new URL. If you’re looking at a website on your phone, how can you scan the code? A lot of QR codes lead to a homepage, which offers no customized information tied to whatever the QR code was on. In short, people who might have excitedly scanned a QR code or a Microsoft Tag a year or two ago are now gun shy. Why should they scan something when it just dumps them into nowhere? Add to that the bad rap other marketers are giving the concept and it seems like QR codes have lost their chance to live up to their full potential.

This is unfortunate. We still feel that QR codes have a lot of potential. The question is whether or not the companies that have abused this technology have ruined it for the rest of us.

Could Social Media Be Right Behind?

It seems like every month a new platform arises in the online world. Dating back to five or six years ago, we had LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Now we have Quora, Google Plus, Pinterest, and many more. Each time one of these new platforms comes out, it gets labeled as “the next big thing for your business,” just like QR codes were. Just like QR codes, there is a lot of pressure on companies to jump into social media. “I must have a presence here!” is the cry you hear resounding from site to site. But we are seeing a new trend developing. Every time companies jump to a new site for marketing purposes without fully researching what the site is really for, it creates a bad taste in peoples’ mouths. For example, a lot of people were having fun with Pinterest but now that companies are starting to put marketing material on there, the community of Pinterest users is becoming increasingly less happy. Unhappy people are not likely to click on that product release you’re tweeting out. They’re not likely to click on that new product you’re ruthlessly promoting on Facebook or Google Plus.

Although it’s been a slower process, is it possible that people will eventually get scared away from companies’ online presence just as people have gotten scared away from scanning barcodes? The problems seem to be running parallel. New shiny technology, hasty jumps onto the bandwagon, no respect or thought for the platform, ticked off people.

It’s something for companies – and marketers – to think about.

Image Credit: via Creative Commons


  1. Danny Brown (@DannyBrown)

    It’s like anything – the blame doesn’t lie with the product but the strategy behind it. QR Codes offer great opportunities – you just need to know how to use them smartly and effectively.

    1. Marjorie Clayman

      Hi Danny!

      That’s the magic, right? Thinking through what you are doing, why you are doing it, what the pros and cons could be. Anything that you think through carefully can be beneficial. Anything you throw against the wall may be successful, but it’ll be so merely because of really good luck. “Good luck” is not a good business plan!

  2. Amy Tobin

    I posted this comment on FB, but I think it’s relevant:

    I just got to read the post – really great. I think that in the end the strong, smart and resourceful companies using Social Media will succeed, and the GMs of the world will throw their money back into Traditional Marketing.

    For small agencies like mine, working with Small Biz, it’s our JOB to try to get them to use the tools properly, directed at the right audience. There’s far too much shot gunning and not enough sharpshooting.

    1. Marjorie Clayman

      That’s a benefit of working with agencies that people seem to gloss over. An agency can offer outside perspective, help with planning, and all sorts of other goodies. You’re right – a lot of spaghetti is being thrown against the wall. That doesn’t take nearly as much finesse as planning a campaign where various platforms/tools may or may not fit in.

      Thanks Amy!

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