Making our social media more human

If you follow the University on social media you might have noticed that every week or so we share a photo and a quote from a ‘Human of York’. These ‘humans’ (as we like to refer to them) are staff, students or alumni who are part of the University’s community. 

As the person behind the camera for Humans of York, I often get asked how the idea came about and what happens behind the scenes, so it seemed like the perfect topic for our new blog.

Feeling inspired

In 2013 a photo series called ‘Humans of New York’ (HONY) was gaining popularity on social media. A photographer called Brandon Stanton was sharing photos and quotes relating to people he met in the city. These were real people who lived and worked there – not celebrities but everyday people with relatable stories. It was fascinating.

In October 2013, the release of Stanton’s first Humans of New York book got us thinking about the success of the series and how we could take inspiration for our social media channels. 

Our central accounts had large audiences but most of our messages tended to be one-way ‘broadcasts’ of information, which were a little dry and corporate in style. 

Will, one of our first ‘Humans’

We wanted to add personality and authenticity to our channels to encourage people to engage with us and our content. We decided that one way to achieve this would be to take inspiration from Humans of New York and feature more of our staff and students. And, with other cities launching their own ‘Humans of’ blogs, we thought it would make sense to use the name ‘Humans of York’. 

We proposed the idea to our Director who agreed that we could try it out using some people we already knew: Kate, who worked in Accommodation; Will, a postgrad who had interned with our team, and Babatunde, who had been featured in the postgraduate prospectus. 

It’s inevitable that doing some new will take time at first but the rewards you can reap from a successful project are worth the initial input and effort. It was really good to have the opportunity to be creative and give something new a go.

Behind the scenes

Six years on, I’ve got the process for creating a Human of York post down to 1-1.5 hours from start to finish. It usually goes like this:

  1. Meet the individual for a quick chat and record the conversation. Then take some photos – quite a few usually as I like to have lots of options. 
  2. Transcribe the interview.
  3. Edit the text down into 1-3 shorter paragraphs for the social media post. 
  4. Edit the photos in Lightroom – just a slight tweak of the colours and light. No ‘facetune’ allowed!
  5. Get approval – I email the text and images to the individual for them to check, edit and sign-off. It’s important that they’re happy with their content before we share it, because it’s personal to them and needs to be real.
  6. Schedule the content in our social media calendar. I aim for one HoY post a week. Sometimes the posts are scheduled to coincide with particular events or campaigns such as Roses or Freshers’ Week (depending on the topic).
  7. Post the content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Behind the scenes: showing a student some photos

We are all Humans of York

Chevening scholar and Human of York, Kemesha

Recommendations of people to feature come from friends, departments, colleagues, or even the individuals themselves. Sometimes I spot interesting characters on social media or meet students through other projects and decide to get in touch. It’s rare that I just approach people outside on campus, but that has happened a few times. One time I saw a student (Mehdi) doing somersaults on Heslington Hall croquet lawn and I had to go over to find out more! 

Initially when we contacted or met someone for the campaign, we had to explain what Humans of York was, now pretty much anyone I speak to is aware of it. It’s great to have that recognition across campus and I’m rarely short of recommendations of volunteers for future subjects.  

Having fun with Humans of York

Since the first post back in 2013, we’ve featured over 200 individuals including academics, support staff, international and home students, postgrads, undergrads, the Vice-Chancellor and even a Christmas elf and her child! We wanted to show the diversity of our campus community and it feels like we have achieved this. 

Humans of York has also led to other campaigns like Faces For Fifty and the YorkTalks PhD Spotlight, as well as content for Graduation and Open Day. We even did a ‘Day in the life of a Human of York’ for our first ever student Instagram story takeover. 

I’ve heard amazing stories and often come away with more content than I could ever share in a single social media post. It’s interesting to learn about the breadth of research happening here, as well as all the fantastic projects our students are involved with. It’s also nice to hear about people’s lives beyond what they do at work or on their course. I hope our social media followers enjoy reading about members of our community as much as I enjoy speaking with them.

You can find all of our Humans of York posts on Facebook at 

Published by

Suzy Harrison

Social Media Producer

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