Give me a (foam) hand

By J.D. Bruewer

J.D. Bruewer is a communications specialist at Hamilton County Job & Family Services.

J.D. Bruewer is a communications specialist at Hamilton County Job & Family Services.

This summer my colleagues and I at Hamilton County Job and Family Services started a campaign to persuade people to consider adopting a child in our foster care system. Adopting is not a decision made quickly. It tends to develop slowly over time. It may germinate in someone’s head for several years before they act. When they do act, it usually takes at least 10 contact points before they decide they really do want to adopt a child.

Our “Could You Be #theone?”campaign is an effort to put the idea in someone’s head by asking a simple question. We created videos and blog posts that we shared through traditional and social media and saw a small increase in the number of requests for information about adoption. We began to think of a way to sustain the campaign over time.

There wasn’t a long-term budget to commit to the project, so we looked for a way to spread and repeat the message with help from others. Our answer? Foam fingers. (Technically foam hands, but who can resist an alliteration?) We figured we could provide them to local notables and others with a social media following and piggyback on their audience. We ordered a couple of hundred foam hands with our slogan and web address, and began reaching out to the community seeking foam finger photographs.

We started close to home: with our own employees, then county commissioners and probate court staff. Commissioner Todd Portune did a memorable photo shoot that we converted to a video. We then branched out to local businesses like Centennial Inc. and media including WLWT. Other notable foam finger photos came from Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Maestro Louis Langrée and associate conductor Keitaro Harada and his gecko Messito. (Take a look at our photo album on Facebook.)

We have more local and national figures lined up for the near future and are continuing to look for more. If your organization would like to take connect with this positive message, please email me at

So, what have we learned so far from this effort?

Don’t hesitate to ask: For roughly every 10 requests we’ve made, we received about four requests for foam hands. Of those four requests, one or two end up getting pictures taken and shared.

Symphony Maestro Louis Langree.

Symphony Maestro Louis Langree.

Be clear: Some of our early requests were just a link to the foam hand photos and a simple request to do the same. We found ourselves answering a lot of questions we should have answered in our requests. Our later requests clearly spelled out why we were doing this, what we hoped to gain and what type of pictures and posts we were seeking. When someone said yes, we quickly locked in the details of who would shoot the picture and who would post it. We found more success as we refined our approach.

Work your connections: Almost every one of our photos is of someone that one of us has a personal connection with. In some cases we have dealt with them professionally. In others, we’ve worked with their spouses to make the request. (Spouses apparently carry a lot of clout.) An upcoming photo series from a popular band now touring Europe came about because one of us knows a band member’s dad.

Be open to new audiences: Our target audience is different than the symphony’s or a popular rock band’s, but we want to take our message to places it might not reach. This type of campaign is low cost so any results lead to good ROI.

Ask and ask again: A few of our photos only happened after a couple requests. One of our future shoots was set up after someone we had originally asked saw some of the other shots.  With that in mind, I’ll ask again. If your organization wants to get some positive social media buzz and looks good with green foam fingers, email me at