by SooJi Min

Every Wednesday morning, the senior staff of Temple Beth Emeth meets for a couple hours. The structure is usually the same – d’var torah, highlights from the week, cholim (a discussion of those who are ill), and updates. It was on one such morning – April 18, 2012 to be exact – that our senior rabbi, Bob Levy, sat in his usual spot (a black leather recliner) and looking at me, made two requests: (1) Can you find out how we can optimize our website for smartphones? and (2) I’d like a QR reader for TBE.

QR codes (short for Quick Response Codes) are square barcodes that smartphone users can scan using an appropriate app, which then takes them to a website designated by the code. I’d seen QR readers and codes around but, to be honest, hadn’t paid much attention to them. Although I own a smartphone (a gift from the same rabbi when I joined TBE), I’d never used the QR reader application.

As soon as I left the meeting, I sent an email to our tech person: “Can we get a QR reader for TBE? Let me know.” Our tech person replied, “When you say QR reader, what will create the barcodes?” Good question. I didn’t realize that you needed to actually create a code that would then be scanned. (This is how much I knew about QR codes and readers.) I wrote back, “I assume then that the Rabbi wants a barcode for TBE.” To which I received the following reply, “What do you want the barcode to say when it is scanned?” Another good question.  I said we wanted it to go to our website – and so, our first two QR codes were born.

Thinking about it in retrospect, it sounds like the rabbi was asking for a secret handshake – but in reality, all that’s needed is a square bar code and a smartphone. One of our two codes sent users directly to the homepage of our website; the other code went to a page that had all the synagogue’s contact details (name, phone, address, and website). After some in-house test runs and tweaking, and we decided to “launch” our first QR code by adding it to the back cover of our printed May bulletin. We also included it in advertisements that we run in the local Washtenaw Jewish News, but we never did any formal announcement or publicity around the fact that we were using QR codes. (If your congregation is interested in recreating this idea, I can forward you those early QR codes we created).

But the story does get better. It wasn’t until we began our social media coaching with Lisa Colton, president of Darim Online (now See 3 Communications) that I learned more about QR codes, including how to use them strategically and with purpose. TBE was selected to be in the first cohort of URJ’s Social Media Boot Camp Coaching and Consulting Grant with Darim Online. We learned that QR codes are best used to encourage someone to take action, whether to attend an event or make a purchase. Next, they shouldn’t just direct people to a static web page. “I feel that QR codes should provide some added value that doesn’t translate in other ways,” Colton writes. Just as important, the content should be formatted to be viewed on the phone, which text larger than normal and more easily read on a smartphone screen. The text should also be inviting. Talk about an “A-ha” social media moment!

The last QR code we created incorporated all the learnings from our social media coaching, sending users to a special Thank You for Visiting page. We added it to an advertisement that ran in the fall Washtenaw County Jewish Life Guide; one of our members saw it and was so excited when it took her to the landing page, which serves two goals for TBE. One goal is to welcome people to the temple and invite them to join us for services and events. The other is to give a sense of what TBE is like – that we are warm, inviting, caring, and vibrant. And when I can figure it out, I’ll see if Google analytics can show us how many times the landing page has been viewed!

No Secret Handshake – Just a Code and a Reader We haven’t created a new QR code since the fall guide came out; we also haven’t made any progress on optimizing our website for mobile viewing. But at least now, we not only know how to create a QR code, but we have another tool for engaging our current members and recruiting new members to the TBE community. How cool is that?

SooJi Min is the executive director of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, MI.