Social Media Startup News

Q&A with Humans of New York Creator Brandon Stanton

December 3, 2012

Simple self-publishing tools and the power of sharing have propelled a new crop of influencers from anonymity to Internet fame. In the BuzzFeed era, smart, socially-powered ideas spread fast. Pair a clever hook with a quick reflex and you’ve got yourself a meme.

To explore this growing trend, we’re taking a closer look at the individuals behind some of the web’s most buzzworthy content. From satirical Twitter handles to ambitious social media experiments, we’ll talk to these content creators to find out their keys to success. To kick off our #MemeMakers series, we’re throwing the spotlight on Humans of New York (HONY), a popular cultural cache of the everyday people who inhabit the Big Apple – and the man behind it all, Brandon Stanton.

HONY is a viral photo blog that creates a “photographic census of NYC, one street portrait at a time.” Boasting over 430K followers on Facebook, as well as a passionate Tumblr fan-base, HONY has revolutionized the classic notion of street photography.

The HONY Facebook community has grown from 10K to more than 400K in less than a year, reaching many notable accomplishments along the way. Recently, HONY raised more than $218,000 for Hurricane Sandy relief – all in less than 10 days. In our first #MemeMakers installment, we take a closer look at the man behind the camera: Brandon Stanton.

What sparked the idea to create Humans of New York?

It wasn’t a single flash of inspiration; rather, the idea grew organically from a love of photography. I just enjoyed street photography, so I was spending a lot of my free time wandering the streets with my camera. I noticed that my most intriguing photos were those I took of people. So, I specialized. After I took a few hundred of these photos, I realized that I had the raw material of a pretty compelling blog.

When did you realize you were really on to something?

Day one. I moved to New York for the sake of pursuing HONY. You don’t make that decision unless you’ve got a pretty good idea that you’re going to be successful. From the very beginning, I knew that people were really responding to my work. The growth explosion happened after about a year of hard work. I’d say that’s when I knew it was going to be really, really big.

What has surprised you most about this project? What have you learned?

A key lesson for me has been the power of social media. Nothing grows my audience like social media. I could be on the front page of a major newspaper, or be on a national television show, and the “bump” is only going to represent a few days of organic growth. Creators are no longer dependent on media or tastemakers, which is very liberating.

Have you noticed any trends emerging within your community? Are their pieces of content that resonate more with fans than others?

Storytelling. The more that I’m able to tell a story, the better a photo will perform. I describe my engagement like this: a story does better than a quote, a quote does better than a caption, a caption does better than “Seen in Central Park.”

What are the primary social platforms supporting and/or driving your project?

Facebook and Tumblr have been the primary engines of HONY’s growth, because they are so accommodating to visual media. I haven’t had much success on Twitter, but that’s entirely explained by my lack of interest in tweeting.

Where do you go from here? What’s the next phase?

I want to go deeper as opposed to wider. I want to improve my photography. I want to improve my storytelling. I’m not so eager to expand. I’d rather concentrate my energy on improving my ability to catalogue the humans of New York.

*Cover photo via