Here at Uhmi, we are incredibly fascinated by Brandon Stanton, the man behind the world famous platform ‘Humans of New York’. Not only is he capable of constantly trying out and exploring the unfamiliar, but he is also a master of self-evaluation and learning from his mistakes. These characteristics have contributed to his achievements as both a photographer and interviewer and turned him into the fascinating storyteller he is today.
The inspirational story behind the success of Brandon Stanton is the reason why we dedicate this Creator Friday article to him. No matter the type of content you create, it's valuable for any creator to understand the importance of projecting your unique personality through your content. Whether this is a story about yourself, someone else, a journey abroad or the latest trends in fashion. All content creators are storytellers. By looking at the work of Brandon Stanton, we’ll guide you in growing as a content creator and becoming a better storyteller.
From Zero to Hero
Early in his life, Brandon Stanton worked as a bond trader, after majoring in history at the University of Georgia. He mentioned that during this period in his life he was experiencing a continuous feeling of extreme unhappiness. Stanton felt that he was living in a world where money talks and where he was unable to express his creativity. While working as a bond trader, Stanton kept suppressing his true passion for photography and told himself that he would use his earned money to undertake something creative one day. From the moment he lost his job, he realized that he had to approach his future from a different perspective. He decided to not put money at the center of his plan but to follow a path to true happiness. For Stanton, this meant that he had to regain control of his life and time and engage in things that would bring him joy and satisfaction.
In this new chapter of his life, Brandon Stanton established a goal for himself. Since he had a passion for photography for as long as he remembered, he decided to move to New York and shoot at least 10,000 portrait pictures of people. Like many ambitious dreams, this plan had a rather shaky start. While short on cash, Stanton was determined to move to New York, where he lived under undesirable circumstances. He lived with three people he didn’t know, in a tough neighbourhood, where he slept on a mattress on the floor. This was most certainly not what he imagined his new life to be, but he was persistent and determined to succeed. His life in New York offered him the possibility of shooting pictures of people in the streets, which sparked joy in his life. Why? Because he finally had control over his own life and engaged in activities that would contribute to his passion and creativity. On a daily base, Stanton would walk over 4 to 6 hours to find the right people to photograph. He continued to do so, because he wanted his dream, of shooting a total of 10,000 portrait pictures and have it published by the press, to come true.
Eventually, he came to an awareness that it would be better to change this initial goal to something else. It could take maybe 3 years or more for him to finish the 10,000 portraits and people would most likely forget his work within 2 days after it gets published. That’s why Stanton decided to mix things up a little. He started to create a presence on Social Media and instead of publishing his work all at once, he chose to present his audience with a consistent stream of content.
This was the start of the inspirational platform Humans of New York. Stanton accompanied the pictures he took with stories that the people in the pictures told him and his audience seemed to love it. Within a couple of months, the Facebook page of Humans of New York grew in size and nowadays the page has over 18 million followers and the Instagram page has over 9 million followers. Because of his hard work and guts, Brandon Stanton went from zero to hero and found happiness again in his life.
What can you, as a content creator, learn from Brandon Stanton’s road to success?
#1 Be personal
One can learn a lot from the success of Humans of New York, such as that online content strikes people’s attention when it has a personal touch to it. In case you feel like this doesn’t apply to your work, think again, because all types of content creators can add a personal touch to their work.
The reason why a personal touch in your online content works is because by doing so, you create a feeling for your audience that they are part of your story. When followers feel like they are part of your content, it can have a stimulating effect on the interaction around your content. Reason enough to check for yourself how you can apply this personal touch to your content. Keep in mind that any content creator can do so, even if it requires you to view your work from a different angle or perspective.
For example, if your work concerns product reviews of video and photo equipment, you can personalize your content by not only describing the product and its use but by adding a video to it in which your audience can see you using the specific products as well. This way, you accentuate the message of your content and entertain your audience by allowing them to get a closer look. In case you write weekly articles about the latest fashion trends, you can add a personal touch to your content by adding pictures of people in the streets who dress accordingly to the trends you write about. These are just some ideas that show that every content creator can think of a way to personalize their content.
#2 Make use of storytelling
Another aspect that contributed to the success of Brandon Stanton is his use of good storytelling. Hence, we encourage you to adopt storytelling in your content and again, this can be done in all types of online content. With storytelling, it's important that before you start with the creation phase of your content, you identify the message that you want to bring across to your audience. To process this in your content creation process, you can ask yourself the following questions about your content piece:
- What is the message that I want to communicate through my content?
- Why do I want to deliver this message to my audience?
- How can I best portray my message?
- What is the relevance of my message to my audience?
- Are there any methods that I can apply that will strengthen my message?
- What is the climax of my message?
- What introduction will I use for this climax?
- How will I conclude this climax?
#3 Make your content interactive/act towards emotions
As mentioned earlier, Brandon Stanton started his world famous platform by taking portrait pictures. However, his platform became successful when he combined these portraits with personal stories of the people in the pictures. By being interactive with the individuals he bases his content on, Stanton not only manages to produce a good story, but he also triggers certain emotions while reading the stories on Social Media as a follower. These emotions can differ from sadness to a feeling of inspiration or recognition and caused people to share the content of Stanton, which contributed to the immense growth of his Social Media reach. When your content enables you to reach someone deep inside their emotional core, chances are high that it will lead to interaction around your content.
#4 Make sure that creating content is a fundamental part of your life
In multiple articles and posts on Facebook and Instagram, we addressed how you can avoid creative blockades and find new inspiration as a content creator. Brandon Stanton has some good advice about this as well: “I haven’t had time to have a mental block. I’m out there just doing the process.”
With this quote, he wants to show that when creating content, it's essential to remain active at all times and to stay inspired. An urge for perfection can easily lead to a delay in your work. Creators often think that, before they can create a piece of content, they need to have everything prepared in full detail or that they need to obtain specific information. This is very understandable, but the best way to develop as a content creator is by start creating, make mistakes, and gradually improve your creations. As mentioned in our Instagram post earlier this week, when Brandon Stanton just started he used to take a lot of pictures in one single setting to obtain the perfect frame. Nowadays he requires only a few shots because over time he naturally became a better photographer. Practice makes perfect. The same goes for his interview skills. Stanton has a rather shy character and in addition to this, he describes New York as one of the toughest places in the world to make contact with strangers. Still, this didn’t stop him from addressing strangers in the streets of New York, even though he got rejected by approximately 90% of all people he spoke to. All he needed was one good story a day that would turn into his next inspirational post. His advanced interview skills have even led to Stanton giving presentations on interviewing techniques. Not because he is schooled in the art of interviewing, but because he kept practicing and never gave up.
We hope that these tips and advice, taken from the work and life of Brandon Stanton, will assist you in your work as a content creator. It may require you to view yourself and your work from a different perspective to apply our provided tips, but it is worth experimenting with it.
Do you need some additional advice on how you can improve your content with Uhmi? Don’t hesitate to contact us and we will be more than happy to provide you with customized advice.