by Anna Bilek
When Brandon Stanton lost his job five years ago, he moved to New York and set himself a goal: He wanted to take pictures of 10,000 people randomly chosen from all across the city to give it a face out of the photos. Yet shortly after the project had begun, he started to ask open questions and to publish the answers along with the photos. It quickly became apparent that people all over the world love the stories on "Humans of New York"!
From the beginning, Brandon shared his interviewees’ questions on social media and has built up a considerable following over the years: Over 14.5 million Facebook fans, 3.7 million followers on Instagram and more than 340,000 followers on Twitter. The level of activity is also high: In general, each story gets hundreds of thousands of likes, many thousands of comments and is shared tens of thousands of times. For each picture, there are many personal exchanges between followers and fans who share their own personal experiences and give each other support or help.
Brandon prefers to be in the background: he lets the people tell their stories themselves which makes their portraits authentic and powerful. "Humans of New York" has already shown how powerfully an emotional story can affect us twice this year. In January, Brandon profiled Chastanet, a 13 year old schoolboy from Brownsville, one of the worst areas in New York. When asked about the person who influenced him the most in life, he said the headmistress of his school:
This short and unexpected answer had a strong effect on Brandon and the fans of "HONY": Brandon met Vidal’s headmistress – an amazing woman who stands up for her students’ future. After her profile was published, the social media channels for "Humans of New York" were full of messages from all over the world saying how much they respected her, thanking others and offering help. Without further ado, an account was set up for the Mott Hill Bridges Academy in Brownsville for people to make donations and within 20 days, 1 million US$ had been given.
A week ago, a woman profiled by Brandon on his journey through Pakistan received even more support from the "HONY" community: Syeda Ghulam Fatima is committed to the fight against slave labour in Pakistan’s brickyards. Her story has deeply moved people all over the world, Fatima’s courage and commitment have impressed many. So much that in fewer than 2 days, 1.5 billion US dollars had been donated for Fatima’s aid organisation "Bonded Labour Liberation Front".
The enthusiasm which "Humans of New York" generates shows how strongly people react to stories. "Emotions make stories powerful.", says Brandon Stanton and thereby expresses the basic rule of storytelling.
Although corporate storytelling uses a rather different "story" to stir emotions and present the brand discreetly as an "enabler", this should also be the main objective here too. Nike impressively demonstrated how this can work with "The Last Game".