Pondering PR

Exploring how we choose to be heard in a noisy online world.

Foursquare and several QR Codes ago…


We the people indeed...

We the people indeed…

I couldn’t help but think when I was reviewing the content from this week’s learnings that we as a society were perched on the edge of a new age of technology.  This level of society was one where interaction was king and information readily being available not only at your finger tips but poised waiting to explode in front of your eyes in a multitude of supporting services supplied from platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or Instagram.  We are on the verge of a brand new world where devices are being developed using interactive technology such as Augmented Reality or AR (think layers of images within a video feed or projected images), Heads Up Displays or HUD (such as Google Glass), or Location Based Services (based on GPS).

At heart I am a science fiction fan, growing up on classics such as Star Trek where the computer was expected to interact with the stars of the show.  Can’t find someone?  Just ask the computer to scan for them.  Not sure where you are?  The computer will map out your location for you and alert you to issues along the way via handheld technology like the show’s tricorder. Even more recent is the interactive tablet “book” from Douglas Adams “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” book series (and then movie) where the book would act as a travel guide offering information on absolutely anything in the galaxy all the while providing a friendly public relations service message of “Don’t Panic”.  The common theme however is having the right technology.  Or in our case – the right apps for our mobile devices. So while the AR and HUD devices are still outside the grasp of the common consumer, I’d like to touch on two lesser known programs that are available right now that you may not have heard about: Foursquare and QR Codes.

Foursquare image

Foursquare is all about the power of community and networking.  Imagine moving into a new city and having a friend show you around giving you tips on the hottest trends, who has the freshest produce or which business offers the best deals.  That’s what Foursquare offers, all mapped out based on the GPS data from your mobile device which can also be accessed via a computer and links to their social networks.  They see participating businesses in any city either via a computer search or populated from physical location, with access to business profiles without having to search for individual websites.  Users can see and offer reviews, and by “checking in” they have access to Foursquare-only promotions.  They can also accrue points for different interactions (like creating their accounts, signing in to a business for the first time, etc.) that provides them bragging rights to other Foursquare users.  If any user checks in to a participating Foursquare listed business the most over a period of a month, they are awarded the coveted title of “Mayor”, which businesses are encouraged to reward by offering special promotions or discounts. Most people running for the title of Mayor would require a heavily financed political campaign with months spent knocking on doors. Not so in Foursquare, where membership is free. Businesses benefit from Foursquare as they are able to tap into their marketing and have access to potential customers that are already in your neighbourhood.  Businesses can also track the success of promotions and peak times based on when users “sign in” and are able to see what customers are saying about them.

I created a Foursquare account to test drive it, and here’s what I came away with.  It’s a cool concept that needs more time to grow to really see it’s full potential. I was surprised with the variety of businesses that had signed up, being mostly restaurants, a golf course, our local theatre, a park, and some other services such as my local grocery store – Fortino’s, but was disappointed that Foursquare would only show me 30 at a time, regardless if there were more available or not. So those perhaps on the edge of the city might be missing out on my business because I wouldn’t think to seek them out.  And not every business offered me promotions, which if I was advising from a public relations perspective, I would encourage incentives for the first time “checked in” reward as a thank you for at least walking through the front door.  I would also suggest that they keep their information and their offers current; the golf course listed in my city offered free DJ services if a wedding was booked by a date in 2013, and build the community by referring users to other businesses listed on Foursquare.

Pondering PR's QR Code

Pondering PR’s QR Code


QR Codes on the other hand enable you to use a reader on your mobile device to scan this image, which then sends you to anywhere the link connects to: websites, email addresses, videos, etc. The possibilities are only limited by the creativity of a campaign, and unfortunately the knowledge of the public, as many still do not understand what this image means.

I first discovered QR Codes a few years back when the Canadian Blood Services were running a campaign around 2011 (unfortunately I can’t find any links), where those hosting blood drives could post stickers or posters with their iconic red drop of blood paired with a QR code which when scanned would enable users to link to a website that would show where the next blood drive was being hosted. It was effective only in terms of novelty, as at the time they were stuck to light posts in my city’s downtown core, and I overheard others mentioning that did not understand what they were.  I also saw a contest advertised at Fortino’s yesterday via posters using a large QR Code that directed people to complete a customer service survey for a chance to be entered into draw for cash. Not effective in my view as I had to stand there in the store and spend 10 minutes completing the survey.  If I were to suggest this tactic, I would instead suggest having the code printed on the grocery receipt or have the cashiers hand out a postcard with the code on it, so customers can take the survey in the comfort of their home rather than having to spend time not shopping or worse, trying to fill it out with a cart full of groceries.

But I’ve used QR Codes successfully shopping for wine at the LCBO, where the codes on either the shelves or labels directed me to the winery’s websites.  The downside though is that most QR Code readers operate like a magnifying glass increasing the code so it fills the reader “box” – and attempting to find the code when very little on a label was extremely difficult. My tip – if you are going to include it in your packaging, make it big.

I also found this really exciting video showing how one could use QR Codes to promote a campaign – take a look:


The advantage is that enough people saw the images the QR Codes were in to be curious about what they were and then scanned them to connect with the media that in turn lead to exposure for the indie music bands.  That to me is extremely innovative and highlights how this technology can be used.


Author: Cindy Tate

A Ryerson University, distance education student through the Chang School, I am pursuing a Public Relations Certificate while working full time as a municipal employee.

9 thoughts on “Foursquare and several QR Codes ago…

  1. Even though I haven’t had a chance to try out QR codes yet or actually check in anywhere with Foursquare, I think I see a pattern developing: the effectiveness of these platforms is really hit or miss at this stage. It sounds like you found an application for Foursquare that was great (Canadian Blood Services), but some information that was outdated or not applicable to your uses. I think the technology is evolving, just maybe not as fast as we’d like it to. I do think it will become smarter the more we use it. But who knows what emerging technology will be available in the next couple of years?

  2. I agree with you that Foursquare is definitely a concept that “needs more time to grow.” I also find myself wondering if it is more likely to be an urban phenomenon. The couple sites I tried it at here in Niagara Falls had so few tips as to be laughable. The Tim Hortons location I went to had had 4 tips contributed since August 2012 (including mine) and my local Sobeys had only 5 tips starting in December 2011. Neither offered any sort of promotion.

    I also found it very strange that I could check into a location without actually having to set foot in it. A few minutes ago, I checked into Sobeys while sitting in my living room. If a promotion IS offered for regular clients, how can they confirm that the client has actually set foot on their property?

    I don’t think I will personally be using this platform, but I am glad I explored it so I know it is out there.

    • I live in Brampton, so while a large city, we’re also still considered a suburb of Toronto. So I expect that urban cities would have more participation from businesses and the number of users signed up (when I signed up only 5 of my contacts were signed up as well), it could also be something that the younger “hipper” crowd is exploring. But it should be interesting to see if this becomes the next thing or just fizzles!

  3. Would novelty really be a benefit at this point? There are so many social media sites out there right now that offer very similar services, that most people are trying to keep on top of what they do now. Also, if your audience does not know what a QR code is, like with the Canadian Blood Services campaign, how useful can it be?

    You hit the nail on the head at the beginning of your post when you said that we are living in a society where interaction is king and information is readily available. This means that we are losing our patience when it comes to research. The information now has to come to us. We are not so likely to go out and look for it. While that is a sad statement, it is true, and as PR practitioners, we need to find a way to get the information to people. I don’t think QR codes or Foursquare are up to the challenge…at least not yet.

    • Agreed Rachel regarding the overload of sites out there! While novelty might get you someone’s attention, you really have to provide much more in terms of what they can offer to keep the customer engaged. I think it will be interesting to see if either will still be around in the future.

  4. Cindy, You make a few good points about Foursquare. I do agree it has potential if some concepts were to develop a lot more, have a complete re- brand and a new marketing campaign. But again I feel like Foursquare is competing with so many similar sites without adjusting to the market. If only a Foursquare employee would update the thing with current content that would make it look like the company cares about their product.

    QR Codes confuses me. In some cases they seem effective but most of the time they seem like a fad. If someone has a smartphone why not just type in the website’s link rather then spending 10 min scanning a QR Code?

    On a positive note I enjoyed reading your blog and like that you gave everything a real try and gave great examples! =) – Julia

  5. Thank you Julia! I’m thinking that with programs such as Google’s anticipated augmented reality app, the need to scan a QR Code may become just a thing of the past where instead you can take a picture of something and have Google bring you to a information page, and where a business could potentially link information or website links (probably all for a cost).

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