Humans of Social Media

Sometimes it takes a minute for an idea to get its time in the spotlight. That wasn’t the case for Humans of New York, est. 2010. When the photoblog leaned into what its subjects were sharing, it became a social media behemoth. Years later, we’ve got Humans of Bombay, Felines of New York, Goats of Bangladesh, Pigeons of Boston and if you’re like me and work with a campus/community of people – you’ve probably seen “Your Brand/City of New York” pop up at some point.

The Concept

Post a picture of a person.

Caption it with their story.

Get long.

Get intimate.

Seriously, get really long.


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“I have pretty bad social anxiety. But I decided that I was going to be more outgoing when I went to college. So I joined the Facebook group for incoming freshmen, and I sent a generic ‘hey’ to everyone. Almost everyone gave me a generic ‘hey’ back, but he kept responding. Then he added me on Snapchat. He started sending me selfies and I responded with pictures of my living room. He wanted to FaceTime, but I hate seeing my own face in the corner so we just talked on the phone instead. When school finally started, we went out together with a group of people. We didn’t make much eye contact but we did stand next to each other the entire time. A month later we were in class and I was making fun of him for not using soap when he washes his hands. And he said: ‘If I use soap, will you date me?’ And I said ‘yes.’ So here we are.”

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“My boyfriend left as soon as I got pregnant. I was terrified to tell my father, but he discovered my pregnancy test hidden in a drawer. He didn’t speak to me for a few days. We’d always been close, so I knew something was up. Finally he asked me if I wanted to tell him something. I began to cry. I thought he was going to kick me out of the house. But he just went to speak with my mom in the other room, and when he came back, he asked what I planned to do. I told him I wanted to keep the baby, and from that moment on he was very supportive. He cooked me all kinds of dishes whenever I had cravings. He gave me words of encouragement. He started saving money in case I needed a cesarean section. But during my seventh month he came down with a fever after wading through floodwater. The next week it turned into a cough. We took him to the hospital, went home to get clothes, but he died by the time we got back. It was so sudden. I had no idea what I was going to do. I got all my strength from my father. It seemed like keeping the baby had been a mistake. It’s been a tough few years. I had to drop out of school and find a job, but my son is doing well. He’s very smart. He comes home from school with stickers and stars. He’s a ‘Mama’s boy.’ It’s been hard, but I’ve proven to myself that I didn’t have to end a life just because I couldn’t face it.” (Manila, Phillipines)

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Add to your toolkit

You can start a “humans” themed personal stories account. But you don’t have to. You can implement this highly effective, algorithm friendly content strategy as a campaign or series within your already existing accounts.

For years, we’ve had a “Humans of (Here)” account on our campus but in the last few months I’ve also seen student teams implementing the strategy in other ways.

Building up to our TEDx event on campus, the student team released the usual Save the Date, Speaker Spotlight, Favourite TED Talks content but they also published a series of Humans/Stories posts that outperformed everything else.

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, our student Wellness Education team released a series of Humans/Stories posts that hit me harder than just about anything I’ve read during years of supporting the campaign. These were the faces and experiences of real students. Our students.


The social media accounts above also deployed beautiful design, provoking+thoughtful content and hit on things that the audiences were interested in. There were selfie walls. There was live video. There were photographers and Twitter takeovers.

For both teams, it was the Humans/Story content that sang the loudest.

The images above are screenshots from Facebook Insights showing Reach and Engagement results for both TEDx and Wellness campaigns (numbers removed). Yellow bars indicate individuals reached via Facebook per post. Pink bars indicate reactions+shares+comments achieved per post. Human/Story posts increased results to the point that results for other types of posts are almost hard to see.

Seriously consider this content strategy if the new Facebook algorithm has taken its toll on your Facebook Page, or if you’re struggling to create engagement between your content and your Facebook audience. It’s social media. People connecting to people. Putting real people, real humans into the spotlight isn’t really a radical idea – it’s just something we fall away from and need to be reminded of sometimes.

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