QR codes aren't "hip." Why that doesn't matter

This morning, I woke up to this question on Twitter: 

I wasn't the first one to chime in. Here's what a couple of the others had to say: 

Now, maybe it was Twitter, and folks thought they had to be short and pithy, but I think the question deserves more analysis. It took me three tweets to get it across, and even then, I want to explain a bit more.

Purpose, Audience, Message

A particular social tool can either help you reach a goal, or it can't. That same tool is also something your audience uses, or it isn't. And finally, how it works is either going to align with the message you need to send across that channel, or it isn't. The analysis of these intersections helps you make a decision about the tool. 

Purpose

Since QR codes let you drive traffic with one scan from a smart phone, I can think of several goals it would help: "Go to this content. Read this content. Learn more. Become aware of my existence. Subscribe. Register. Buy." All of those are brand goals. One check for using QRs. 

Audience

Now, let's take a look at our audience. Let's pretend they're 50-year-old women in a predominantly hispanic community, who have time to volunteer. According to this recent study by Pew, hispanics use smart phones to access the Internet. However, according to this study, women do so less than men. And, this Neilsen Research Slideshare says older women ... not so much. So, perhaps QR codes for this audience will not be successful ... or they might be.

Our fourth in this conversation jumped in at this point, and it speaks to the important of matching the needs of the audience to the tool.   

I'd want to see the research, but hey—that's just me. 

Message

Then, look at the message. A QR code can do exactly one thing: communicate "scan me and [blank] will happen." If your message is more complicated than that, they can't help. 

User Experience 

Maybe I approach social media differently. My background is in public relations, sure, but I also have a design background, and I worry constantly about usability and accessibility for the intended customer, audience, or client.  

Social media are tools. If those tools work for you and your audience, well then—perhaps it has some use for you. 

If you can put a tool to use for you, and it creates a usable, accessible and beneficial experience for your audience, then why not. 

Context matters!

An extension of user experience is context: understanding how, when and where use and interaction occurs. If you want to send push notifications to your staff, and they're often in confidential client meetings that can't be disturbed, perhaps your contextual analysis needs work. 

QR codes need access to the Internet. They also need someone to have a scanning app on their smart phone that can be used safely and conveniently. So, don't be stupid; think about how your audience will interact in situ, and if it's even going to work.

I certainly don't expect you to scan this QR code. What would be the point of creating a QR code, and then putting it online? You're already there. Just use a link. Grandpa from here; QR code generated here. 

I certainly don't expect you to scan this QR code. What would be the point of creating a QR code, and then putting it online? You're already there. Just use a link. Grandpa from here; QR code generated here

TL;DR

Don't dis a tool just because it's not "hip" any more. Also, don't jump on board a tool because "everyone is doing it." That's part of what led to the disillusionment with QR codes: everyone was doing it, and everyone was doing it awfully

Analyse your purpose, your audience (who they are, where they are, and how they'll engage with you), and how your message can interact with the medium. Then make a decision.