Written by Tiana Quitugua, Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness, for Firesteel

A table filled with bright mustaches, bowties and glasses; signs with catchy captions; and a basket filled with pink Hershey’s kisses. This was my Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day (HHAD) photo booth amidst the 8 a.m. hustle and bustle of Seattle University’s business building.

HHAD is an event in Olympia, sponsored by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, at which constituents meet their legislators to advocate for housing and homelessness issues. As a student at Seattle University, I couldn’t attend this year’s HHAD on Jan. 28 because of classes. I decided hosting a campus photo booth that day would be a great way to support HHAD and the Firesteel photo booth in Olympia, and to create awareness of family homelessness on campus. This event was a first for our Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness.

At the photo booth, we asked students and faculty to take “unselfies” to share on our project’s social media accounts as well as on their personal accounts. Selfies are photos you take of yourself; unselfies are cause-related selfies of you or others to be shared on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Since this was our first time doing something like this, I didn’t know what to expect. Would students be interested? I was nervous.  I thought the event would be a success if I could convince 15 people to take a picture with me between 8 and 11 a.m.

Working the Crowd

I greeted people passing by and invited those who looked over to take a quick picture to support HHAD.

Those who agreed picked a sign and/or a prop and smiled for a picture, which I took on my phone. I offered to take it on theirs too, so they could share it as well. I then posted it on Instagram with a caption and hashtags, and shared it on Twitter, where it was retweeted and favorited by others, including Firesteel.

I ended up recruiting 36 people for the pictures, and posted 41 pictures to Instagram and Twitter.

The event was way more successful than I’d hoped. Here’s what I learned.

We gave everyone a choice between holding our “house” frame (left, with Brittany and Aileen); displaying a pre-printed sign with an important advocacy message (Bohan, center); or writing a sign themselves based on our messaging (Annika, right). 

Tips for Success

Tip 1: Be friendly, energetic and proactive. Instead of silently waiting for people, invite them over.

Part of the event table. It drew peoples’ attention to the amusing props and the signs.

Tip 2: Create an exciting presentation space. The table, laden with bright colors, fun props and interesting visuals, grabbed attention even for sleepy students.

Tip 3: If you can, hold your event at a time when your location will have the most traffic. I chose the business building atrium because it has the most open lobby and is located in the center of classrooms and offices where people congregate. This timing worked out well for complementing the activity in Olympia.

Example of Firesteel’s Olympia photo booth. Haley and Graham work for the Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness as well. Their signs are great! Note the WLIHA logo backdrop that Firesteel created.

Tip 4: Set an objective or goal. An objective helps evaluate your success. For example, mine was 15 photos based on an estimated five per hour, and I far exceeded that. Now I have a baseline for next time.

Tip 5: Don’t just shoot it — post it! Post the photo to your personal and/or organization’s social media account. Include a brief caption, appropriate hashtags, tags, and individual names to make it personal. Encourage participants to post to their personal accounts as well.

Here are some examples of how we posted the photos. At left is one from our Instagram page with Shelley. Right: Brittany shared this photo on her Instagram and Facebook page, while we shared it on Instagram and Twitter.  

Tip 6: Plan promotions. The more buildup, the more people will come. I posted on the university’s calendar, emailed listservs, created a Facebook event, and promoted through word of mouth. Allow at least two weeks to get the momentum going!

Tip 7: Outline materials. Making a checklist helps determine what materials you have and need, and the best set-up. Materials like these will definitely benefit your event:

• Table signage gets people interested. Avoid too much text.

Stand-up signs (11×17) placed on the table used more pictures than text, clearly explaining our “ask.” The sign at right includes “unselfies” that advocates posted on Social Media Day of Action for HHAD, Jan. 22, 2014. Do you recognize any of the advocates?

• Provide key-message signs that participants can hold.

Participants can handwrite a sign on thought or quote bubbles (Jamila, left), or hold up a printed sign with various captions, which Firesteel provided to us (Gus, center). Or (right), they can do both, like frequent Firesteel blogger Perry Firth! Perry wrote many of the most popular pieces on this site, including last year’s most-read post.

• Props like mustaches, glasses, or symbols that represent your cause are fun and festive. I found these online and taped them to popsicle sticks.

Fun handmade props can make people more interested in taking a picture.  

• Action or information sheets about your cause can further engage people.

Left: The action sheet that we distributed gives 15 different ideas about ways people can work to end family homelessness. Middle:This legislator ”tweet sheet” helps advocates tweet their legislators. Right: Examples of hashtags and captions for posts. 

• Organize your table for efficiency, such as information sheets and candy in the center, and props and signs at the ends of the table for easy pickup and picture taking.

Tiana and the table layout.

You can make all materials on a low budget. The signs, handouts, popsicle sticks, plastic tablecloth and candy were the only items we had to pay for. Because it’s free to take photos on smartphones, our total cost was less than $75.

This house sign is made with construction paper, popsicle sticks, tape, and permanent marker. Peeking out the window is my colleague on the SU Project on Family Homelessness, McKenna Haley, a digital design senior.

Be creative by using recycled materials and making them by hand. If you have a larger budget, purchase hats and boas. You can even make fun information packets with pamphlets, cards, candy, and a mini sign with your organization’s logo.

Tip 8: Don’t let rejection get you down. Inviting people to the booth can be tedious and you will face much rejection. If you have ever worked in retail, you know what I mean. Maintaining your confidence, motivation and smile will keep you going.

Tip 9: Remember that sharing is caring. Don’t stop with a single social media post; share it with other people and platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Tagging and hash-tagging individuals and groups will also increase visibility and the likelihood for sharing.

Examples of social media sharing: One Instagram post from our booth shared to Twitter is tweeted, retweeted, favorited, commented and mentioned in new tweets.  

It Starts With You

Anyone can do this! I operated the booth by myself at a university campus for three hours. Think of all the possibilities you, a group of friends, or a whole organization can accomplish!