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The QR code became common-place during the COVID-19 pandemic. We saw it replace menus, track vaccines, check you in for appointments. The advantages are clear: no contact, easy access, and digital-friendly.
Community organizations quickly began to explore how these little black-and-white boxes could help them engage their neighborhoods safely and effectively. This is a guide on how and why you can use QR codes as a powerful tool for local discovery and engagement.
We'll be using the Atlantic Ave Art Walk as the case study throughout this guide (we helped them create this experience during COVID!). We've helped organizations use this methodology several times since for different events, and it continues to work amazingly. After reading this, you can deploy it for your organization!
In October 2020, Atlantic Avenue community organizations got together to throw the Atlantic Avenue Art Walk. AALDC Exec. Director Howard Kollins approached Verbate to figure out how to use QR Codes to help people navigate the Art Walk at the height of the pandemic.
Each business along Atlantic Ave. would host an artist in their window display. So, no need for tents/booths, and the businesses got free foot traffic. Win-win.
So, we planned a contactless experience for each business that was hosting an artist. Here's how we laid out the plan:
The Art Walk was a huge success. Over 9,000 people engaged with the experience, sponsors received 25.6K impressions, and people engaged with the digital experience for an average of 3:00 minutes.
So how did we do it? Let's cover some basics, best practices and steps to how you can do something like this for your community org.
There are three main elements to a contactless experience:
1) The digital experience the user will receive (usually a web page)
2) The sign the user will scan
3) The QR code that loads the digital experience
The steps below will help you plan and execute all of those elements.
When you click a link on any website, it takes you to another webpage. That's all a QR code does. Think of a QR code as a link in real life.
A QR code is basically a link that cameras can read. When your camera sees the QR code, it loads the link. The moral of the story: don't be intimidated by QR codes - they're just links, and you already know how to use a link! Now let's get building.
We'll start with the webpages for a few reasons. First, the number of web pages you have will dictate how many QR codes you'll create. Second, knowing what's on the page will help you design the sign.
You'll create a unique web page and URL for each set of information you want to share with your audience. For the Art Walk, this meant that we had a unique web page for each window display, as we needed to share info about the different merchants and artists.
To do this efficiently, we built a "template page," which defines the layout, content, etc., and then we duplicated it over and over again, just changing the content. In the end, you should have one unique page for each experience you'd like to create.
Depending on the event you're using this for, you may not need multiple pages. For example, we helped an organization host an outdoor festival where they simply wanted signs posted with the concert schedule. For this experience, we only needed a single web page, because all of the signs would push to the same info. Easy!
At the end of this process, you should have a list of URLs that correspond to each page you've created. We'll eventually use these URLs to create our QR codes.
There's one main point to make here, and then most of this is your artistic taste:
Give directions, and set expectations.
When a user finds a QR code, they need to know why they should scan it. Too often we see QR codes randomly placed on signs, and then organizations are surprised when on one uses them.
Here's the simple strategy: clearly state 1) the action they need to take ("scan to...") and 2) the "reward" they'll receive if they do.
We've tested this - it works!
Verbate's Art Walk signs are a solid example: when people were approaching the window displays, they were wondering "huh, I wonder who this artist is?" So, the signs said this: Scan to learn more about this artist & location
Beyond that point, here are a few general guidelines, and a template we've used:
I promise you, this is the easiest part.
1) Go to https://www.qr-code-generator.com/
2) Take each of your URLs and place them into the generator
3) Download the QR code that's generated
4) Place it in your sign design
5) Repeat for each URL/QR code.
That's it! You now have a sign with a unique QR code for each web page.
Don't use the QR code customization tools. Changing the shape of the dots, adding a logo, adding a boarder - let's be honest, QR codes are not beautiful, and rounding the corners isn't really going to help. More importantly, making these modifications makes the code harder for phones to scan. So, stick with the standard code design and make the sign around the code beautiful. Your users will thank you.
Go find your local print vendor and tell them you need your signs printed. You'll most likely be asked to export your signs as a "vector file." The easiest way to do this is exporting as a PDF, if the option exists in your sign design program.
When we've created QR code signs, we've usually produced them in one of two ways:
Does surprisingly well outdoors (we've seen them up for months without issues), and cost efficient. However, you generally have to fit in one of your print vendors standard sizes (8.5"x11", 8.5"x"5.5) - just call and ask what sizes they can laminate beforehand if you want to go this route.
This is the material used for yard signs, about 1/4 inch thick with the channels running down the middle. Good option if you want something that looks a bit more premium in a size larger than a sheet of paper.
If you really want to get fancy, you can also integrate NFC tags into your design, like the one seen above. It's easy, I promise.
Remember when we said QR codes are just links in real life? NFC stickers do basically the same thing. They give your phone a link to load when you tap them.
Here's a roll of NFC stickers on Amazon for a remarkably low cost. To program them, do the following:
1) Download an app like this one: NFC Tools
2) You want to "Write" the URL of the webpage to the tag - so you'll add a "URL record" with your intended URL
3) Click "Write," and tap the NFC sticker with your phone when prompted.
4) You'll want to lock the tag so others can't rewrite it - in NFC Tools homepage, hit "Other" then "Set password" and follow the instructions to protect your tag
Now whenever a phone with NFC capabilities (any iPhone after 2017 and most Android phones) taps the NFC sticker, your page will load. So easy.
Stick this on the back of your sign, and now people can tap or scan to learn more.
Here's an example of how it works:
Questions? Get in touch with our resident QR code expert, Armen, by joining Verbate's digital community! Join the waitlist here.
This guide walks you through how to use QR codes, using the Atlantic Ave Art Walk as a case study.