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Californian’s Office Speaks in Code

Karen Bass Finding New Ways to Connect With Constituents Through Technology

The office of Rep. Karen Bass was one of the first on the Hill to jump on the bar code bandwagon. 

“They’ve been helpful for us,” said the California Democrat’s director of new media, Paul Bell, who explained that the office tries to place the codes where constituents will see them. “We try to have it on everything from fliers that we use to mailers that we send out,” he said.

Bass’ office first included Quick Response codes on the mailer it sent out introducing the Congresswoman when she came into office at the beginning of last year. Since sending the mailer, the QR code — which linked to a video of Bass introducing herself to her constituents — was scanned 201 times.

Although that might not seem like an overwhelming response rate, Bell explained that using the codes is worth it when the cost-to-benefit ratio is so high.

“I don’t think it hurts anything,” he said, explaining that the codes take up a small amount of space and can be generated at a low cost or for free. “It takes two minutes to make it, and you have actual analytics.”

That, Bell said, is one of the most important benefits of using these tiny tech tools.

“People invest a lot of money in these mailers, and you don’t know what happens to them once they leave the office,” he said, explaining that offices can track the number of people scanning the QR codes on franked mail.

In addition to placing QR codes on the backs of their business cards, Bass and her staff also use the codes when holding events, such as town hall meetings. Bell explained that attendees can RSVP by scanning the QR code. 

Then, when they show up at the event, Bass’ staff members will scan their tickets, which also have QR codes on them. This allows Bass’ staff to keep track of crowd size, which helps when planning future events.

And when they’re used well, people take notice. Bell remembered a young constituent tweeting at the Congresswoman that he was impressed with her tech savvy. One of the keys, he said, is making sure the QR code takes users to additional content that is optimized for the platform they are using. 

“People that are using QR codes are using them on mobile devices,” he said, “so the website that you link to should also be formatted for mobile.”