qr-code-entrepreneur.jpgWhen it comes to the latest and greatest in marketing tools, maybe you've heard the term QR code bandied about as the next big thing. The initials QR stand for Quick Response, and you should think of a QR code as an easy-to-create, two-dimensional bar code that can be scanned by a smart phone to instantly and effortlessly share targeted content online with minimal exertion by the end user.

Recently I've noticed a lot of business travelers using QR codes as paperless airline boarding passes. Once downloaded to their smartphone, the traveler displays the QR code at the airport where a scanning device at the security checkpoint and later, at the gate, verifies their information and lets them pass.

I think we're going to be hearing a lot more about these high-speed codes in the months and years to come, because the benefits they offer businesses and consumers are astounding. By pointing a smartphone at the QR code, your customers or clients have instant access to exactly the information you want to impart. All that's required is a smartphone equipped with an easily obtained QR code reader or app. When users can scan your QR code, your data is instantly converted into text, graphics, or your company's website address (a process called "dequrifying").

But the really cool thing about QR codes is that any business, start-up or entrepreneur can create them online themselves, and in many cases, can do this or free (see Kaywa and ZXing for more information).

To date, QR codes have been successfully embedded on websites and in magazine ads, direct mail, coupons, email marketing, billboards, in-store advertising and contest entry forms. If you're considering adding QR codes to your social media marketing toolbox, keep in mind that many of your customers and contacts might not be familiar with the concept. It will be up to you to bring them up to speed, telling them how the codes work and more important, where they can pick up scanner applications for their smartphones.

For those who want a QR scanning app for your smart phone, simply check with your provider's app store for a scanner. These are usually labeled "code scanner" or "barcode reader" and are available free or for a low cost. On the iPhone, for instance, you can get an app called Optiscan or QuickMark, while those using the Android phone, there's a QR code reader called Barcode Scanner. Blackberry users can upload an app called ScanLife for free.