Are You a Digital Litterbug?

Far too many companies turn social media and QR codes into annoying time-wasters. Here's how to use them in a way consumers will value

Written by Cybele Negris

The daily deluge of digital information and marketing is getting increasingly hard to manage. We get junk mail in our mailboxes at home and work, telemarketers calling us on the phone and spam via email. The advent of social media has added to the inflow of time-wasting “digital junk.” Here’s how to avoid adding to the digital landfill:

Reduce social-media noise

Stop sending automated “DMs” (direct messages) on Twitter. I get so many of these each day that I’ve stopped reading them. Most seem to be malicious links anyway.

Instead, if you want to engage people on Twitter, read their profiles and posts and mention these, or “RT” (retweet) some useful or interesting content.

Automated messages on Facebook are even more annoying because they’re hard to ignore. Marketers can generate these so they show up in your “messages” tab. You can try to “leave the conversation,” but then each person who leaves the conversation generates another message notification that “so-and-so left the conversation” to everyone on the list.

I’ve received 300 of these notifications from a single message. Everyone on the list was outraged, but no one seemed to be able to find a way to stop them. I went to the message and clicked on the “Action” button and chose the last option “Move to Other.” I then went to my privacy settings and changed my default to allow only “Friends” rather than “Everyone” to send me Facebook messages. I hope that did the trick.

Use QR codes creatively

QR (Quick Response) codes are everywhere. These are the square, black and white, two-dimensional bar codes you see on everything from magazine ads to cereal boxes to labels on bananas. QR codes have been around for many years and were first developed in Japan to track car parts. But they’ve become popular only in the past few years since QR-code scanners became available on smartphones.

The problem is that everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. QR codes are one of the most overused—and misused—tools by marketers today. Many companies created QR codes that essentially were merely a link to their website. Some put QR codes in emails or websites, which is fine for people who scan their computer screens. But this makes it impossible for those who view it on a mobile device to scan, because the camera used to scan the QR code is on the flip side of the mobile device’s screen.

Read: Seven Smarter Ways to Put QR Codes to Work

The challenge for marketers is to come up with something more inventive. Think about customers and prospects who scan a QR code. What content would make it interesting or of value to them rather than wasting their time?

The coffee shop down the street from me is using QR codes in a smart way. It has them on its receipts, and when you scan a code you receive points you can redeem for a free coffee after 10 purchases. This is a new take on the loyalty card, and I like it.

The New York office of ad agency BBDO created a campaign for Guinness by developing a beer glass wrapped in a QR code. Scan the code and the glass checks you in to Foursquare, tweets for you or updates your Facebook status. You need to use Guinness or another very dark beer in order to read the code—a light-coloured beer won’t do it. Now that’s marketing!

This column is reposted with the permission of Business in Vancouver, which posted it originally on

Cybele Negris is president and co-founder of Vancouver-based Inc., Canada’s original .ca registrar and one of the country’s leading providers of web hosting and other internet solutions. She has been on the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs for the past nine years.

More columns by Cybele Negris

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