When a blog post turns into a digital phenomenon

By Christine Akl

Who would have known that the subject I have chosen for my final presentation will be one of the biggest risks I’ve had to take during this certificate.

Whenever I am stuck, I change whatever I am doing and then try to tackle it later on.
I made the decision to go on Facebook; I hit the refresh button, and there it was, at the top of my feed, the phenomenon that is Humans of New York.
I invite you to watch this two minutes video to see how it all began- For some reason it reminds of Jeff Goins’ article / Podcast Stop running away from your story that states
“Everybody has an origin story. The heroes and villains of your favorite novels have one. And so do you. But perhaps it’s not the same story you’re telling to the world.”

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Suddenly my choice was crystal clear.
Humans of New York is a blog run by Brandon Stanton a photographer in New York that has the gift of making people open up and talk about their most personal life experiences.


I am choosing a photojournalistic blog post that turned into a digital campaign. One of HONY’s series called – Syrian Americans.

The reason why I chose this campaign
This blog series had the initial goal to bring awareness about refugees and their lives; These people that have had their lives turned upside down and we go through what these families have had to overcome to be relocated to the United States. This series struck a personal cord – I am from Lebanon, and to think that all these hardships were happening to real people that are just a border away is beyond belief.

The buzz that these posts created was unbelievable – Seeing how much people were willing to lend a hand to these families inspired Brandon to create a fundraiser with an initial target of $100,000 – that means $9000 for each family (11 in total).
They ended up raising $700,000 in three days! Talk about a successful campaign. And it did not stop there! Humans of New York set up each family with people that were willing to open up their houses for the Holidays since they do not know anyone in their new country – That too was a massive success.

The Why
Why is this campaign great? Empathy, Honesty and Rawness are some of the words that describe the amazing content these people shared. These stories appealed to our human nature, these were no longer just refugees – they had a name and a story and they had feelings. The strength of this campaign is that it speaks directly to our emotions we can relate to a lot of the feelings these people are talking about.


Some extracts from the posts above :

”  I graduated from university at the top of my class. I was given a scholarship to pursue my PhD. I suffered for my dream.”

” Nobody had a problem with us. We had no affiliation with any party or regime. Everyone loved us, honestly.”

“If the missile had exploded, I wouldn’t have any children left. But it only destroyed the top floor where my wife and daughter were. Sixteen people died in the attack. Seven were from my family.”

“Nobody was around to help, so my son had to carry the pieces of his mother and sister out of the house. He was fourteen at the time.”

“I have a PhD but I’m not allowed to work without a residence permit. There is a university here that is teaching with a book I wrote, but still won’t give me a job.”

After reading these, you would probably understand why thePresident of the Unites States would leave a comment on a blog post.

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The risk I am taking comes from the content itself. The content comes directly from the person being “interviewed” and is so compelling that Brandon did not feel the need to change how the story it is presented depending on the platform. If you see the Facebook page, Twitter or the website – You will find the same content in the same style : A picture with a person describing their life experience . You will never see that work for any other organization/ brand.

Humans of New York even has a book out that was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for quite sometime. There wasn’t any need to change how the information in being delivered even between the print and the web. I am aware that that goes against everything we have learned in Scott’s Content Creation class CBUS111.
On the other hand there’s best practice and there’s what works for you – I have learned that too. And Brandon seems to have figured what works with his community – And how amazing is that?

Whether refugees is a subject you are interested in knowing more about or not, I invite you to just take a look at this page. Follow these people and their stories because on my worst day, the positiveness that surrounds this community of people always restores my faith in humanity.


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