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Capturing Your Audience

Posted: February 10, 2015, 9:14 p.m.

by Sarah Parker

Last Thursday, President Obama met with a young man from Brooklyn, Vidal Chastanet; his principal, Nadia Lopez; and Brandon Stanton, the original human behind Humans of New York (HONY). Earlier this week, Chastanet and Lopez were interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Roberts. You might be thinking, okay, that’s great and all, but who are Chastanet and Lopez, and how did they end up on “Ellen” and “Good Morning America”?

Believe it or not, it was all because of one post on the HONY Facebook page.

Vidal Original Post


Stanton, a former finance guy turned blogger, created HONY in November 2010. In the HONY Facebook page’s ‘About’ section, Stanton said he wanted to create an “exhaustive catalogue” of 10,000 New Yorkers, and eventually he began interviewing the people he photographed. These photos and captions turned into a blog (link), and today the HONY page has over 12 million likes on Facebook. You heard me! Over 12 million.

Each post includes an artsy picture of a New Yorker going about their daily routine, whether they are walking through Central Park, riding the subway, or wearing an outrageous outfit. Stanton once featured a lady wearing green from head to toe. He will talk to anyone, at any time, and he asks some serious questions, ranging from peoples’ biggest fears to their favorite memory or their saddest moment. Each post usually gets over 100,000 likes, proof of each post’s popularity.

People around the world comment on these posts, and unlike most other blogs, the comments are largely positive. HONY posts are constantly praised for their genuine representation of people from all walks of life. In a world polarized in so many ways, seeing the positive comments is incredibly refreshing.

On Jan. 19, the featured human of New York was Vidal Chastanet, a young man from Brownsville, Brooklyn, one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Chastanet was asked who had influenced him the most in his life. He named Principal Lopez, saying, “And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

Pass the tissues, please.

Chastanet’s story resonated with HONY followers, and soon this post earned over one million likes, 145,000 shares and 20,000 comments. This was a lot, even for HONY. Days later, Stanton reached out to Lopez and the administration of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. This led to an Indiegogo fundraiser meant to raise $100,000 to send kids to visit Harvard.

Why Harvard? “I want my scholars to know that there is not a single place they don’t belong,” Lopez said.

To date, 51,119 people have raised over 1.4 million dollars. Clearly the $100,000 mark was easily reached, and every additional $30,000 (the cost to take the trip) went toward future class trips. People keep donating, however, and every dollar over $700,000 is going to the Vidal Chastanet Scholarship Fund. The first scholarship recipient will be Chastanet himself.

Chastanet, Lopez and Stanton’s story is a testament to the power of social media, and the effect a single post can have. Through one Facebook post, one photographer shared the story of a 13-year-old boy with the world, leading to that same boy and his teacher meeting the president of the United States.

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Communication professionals can’t always expect their social media posts to have the same impact as Chastanet’s. But this story can teach us valuable lessons in communication.

1. What is posted on social media does matter. Even with the countless social media posts made each day, people are paying attention. Stanton posts numerous profiles per day, but Chastanet’s story resonated in a different way.

2. If corporations and organizations post intentional, meaningful content, people will respond. I’m not saying every business needs to post pictures of something sappy and emotional — we can’t all be HONY, after all. Brands need to get to the core of what their business stands for and what they want to achieve, and then produce content that reflects those beliefs and purposes.

3. Quality content should be posted knowing that our audience is our greatest asset. If we can produce high-quality content that aligns with what matters to our target public, our audience will respond. It’s not like I can tweet, snap my fingers and say POOF! to make a tweet go viral. We need our followers.

Communication nerd thoughts aside, I don’t think Stanton made that post expecting it to go viral, or to result in an invitation to the oval office. But isn’t that what makes it so great? After all, sometimes the best success is the unexpected kind.

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