Students adopt storytelling with ‘Humans of’ strategy to build college brand

An overview of how Humans Of New York simulation is being used as a brand-building strategy by college students across the globe.

Humans of New York started as a photography project by Brandon Stanton that went on to inspire millions with stories of New Yorkers. Amongst the millions touched by the photoblog was Karishma Mehta, who drew inspiration to incubate a similar initiative for the city of Mumbai. Thus, Humans of Bombay came to life. The ‘Humans of’ format is today being used by students as an avenue to add value to their college brand.

HONY and HOB, and many other platforms like them, have grown into spaces of content and brand collaborations, proving ‘Humans of’ to be an effective marketing strategy. They have even published books, documenting the best of their digital content. In fact, while the Humans of New York book was recognised by the New York Times as a No. 1 Best Seller.

Over the years, Humans of Bombay has worked on several fundraiser initiatives and paid collaborations with brands such as Amazon Prime Video India, Maybelline India, Gillette India, Himalaya, and Hotstar. The two pages have also attempted to unravel the personal facets of world likes like Barack Obama and Narendra Modi.

With the intent of building a brand identity, a few colleges around the world are adopting this method of telling stories. Here, students share inspiring ‘Humans of’ stories from their institutions. From stories of students and chai-wallahs to teachers, hostel guards and canteen bhaiyas, these pages are an all-encompassing strategic celebration of life.

The stories shared on these platforms are raw and real. They instill confidence in the minds of the readers. The format aims to show how people can be ‘heroes’ of their own stories and how the college’s culture is an integral part of their story, helping them rise above.

Let’s have a look at some of these pages.

Harvard Humans

Posts: 21

Followers: 3657

Frequency: Infrequent

Began on February 18, 2019

Harvard Humans is a page that gives space to raw emotions. This includes the apprehensions of an Asian-American trying to be a part of the football team as well as a teacher recalling her experience of helping children in a Tsunami-hit Japan, in collaboration with UNICEF. Stories also include the sentiment of how Havard has a friendly atmosphere. The page’s bio has a link to the form where one can submit a nomination for a feature.

View this post on Instagram

"In 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan and I was watching TV and seeing the people and buildings, everything swept away by this huge disaster, I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to do something, but I was in the middle of the semester. But every day, I was thinking that I must do something to help. I’m a board member for UNICEF New England, so I wanted to make sure that everybody, especially the children, were safe, as they tried to get their lives back. I decided to go to Japan and visit the disaster areas. I stayed there for about a week, camping. They didn’t have any accommodations, so I just slept on the floor with a blanket. I got to visit the local kindergarten and high school, and I confirmed that the UNICEF staff brought all the things necessary for the children. When I look back, and I experienced so many earthquakes while I was there, I wasn’t sure whether that was the right thing to do at the time. When I look back now and recall so many happy faces of the children … and I can see the blanket and the books and stationery, all with the UNICEF mark on them, we could tell up to a certain point that our assistance was getting through and helping the children and people there. That was a time when I was stepping out of my comfort zone. My family also wanted to stop me because it was too dangerous. But now I’m happy that I went to offer some assistance although, after that, I couldn’t help much. The disaster was so massive that I wonder what more I could have done, and while this was stepping out of my comfort zone, I always wish that I could have done more to help.” – Professor Yuko Kageyama-Hunt

A post shared by Humans of Harvard College (@harvardhumans) on

Humans of IIMA

Posts: 4

Followers: 571

Frequency: Weekly

Began on January 1, 2020

This Literary Symposium Desk of IIM-A runs the page. It stands by the vision of comprising “the people who make IIM-A what it is for us today.” What makes the page stand out is, that it only celebrates the experiences of the servicemen working in the institute. The narratives shared by Bhavesh Bhai and the 5 AM Chai-wale Bhaiya would surely be considered by the aspiring students who wish to pull off all-nighters before exams at IIM.

View this post on Instagram

During my initial days at IIMA, I used to run a day canteen. I also ran a printing press business in the evenings, which was my main source of income. One of the previous mess secretaries gave me the idea of starting a night canteen. Ten years later, this has become my main business now, and I have shut down the press. But one thing has always remained constant – I have always loved working around students, first with the NID students in the press and now you guys. There is no fun without young students around! I built this canteen from the ground up; kids always want road-side style food, but they say it should be healthy as well. That is how I designed my menu – I use less oil, but try to keep the taste the same. They are also always stressed, especially during the first 3-4 months. Then they start to relax, a little too much by the time they reach the second year. Even alums keep calling and visiting me. In fact, one of the alums created my Facebook account. I have added all of them on Facebook now and keep liking their photos. The biggest change I have noticed in the past ten years is that kids who come here are getting younger. I sometimes wonder how they will get other people to listen to them. The culture has changed a lot, from Bhai to Bro(Thank god they don't call me Bhavesh bro!). I give them only one piece of advice – build and maintain good relationships. Always try to understand more about the other person, which has always worked for me. I am planning to expand the canteen the next time the contract is renewed. I cannot pick up a job again; can't ever leave this place. This place gives me the freedom I wanted, and I have become attached to the students. I even had an offer from a university 3km from my house, and I still chose to decline. After my kids and family, this is my closest possession. Whenever my kids are not at home, I come here randomly in the night to pass the time. I roam around the campus, have a cup of tea at Mafa kaka’s (his tea is better than my machine’s!), and do the thing I love the most – talk to students.

A post shared by Humans Of IIMA (@humansofiima) on

Official Humans Of NM

Posts: 2

Followers: 321

Frequency: Twice a week

Began on January 15, 2020

With a clear concept of spreading inspiration through ‘One story at a time,’ this page talks about a plethora of learning experiences shared by students who organize the popular fests in the college. This page shows how students from diverse backgrounds can still become the best of friends while sharing similar beliefs. Students get candid and share instances of facing social anxiety while acting as driving forces behind large organizing committees, they prove to be winners of their own battles in the end.  This page is run by the Brand Building Committee. In addition, the course and the batch of the students are mentioned.

View this post on Instagram

Throughout my school life I've been this shy little girl, looking for a corner seat in the classroom- to skip the socialisation. I’d find myself being comfortable around being with just me and my two constant school best friends. NM, arguably wasn't my first preference, but the moment I stepped into the campus, I knew its going to be worth it. Just the first week of college, I found myself being more “okay” with being out there. I got selected as the representative of the Council from a ton of applications, started accepting changes, started talking to new people, made alot of friends (extremely unlike me). The pivotal time of my college life was when I got designated as the Managing Director of Insight. Ones only always heard people rambling about how stressful the whole process is. More so when you’re a part of the core of a college fest and guess what? They were right! It was only the first week as a MD and I already gushed upon with disappointment. I realised that I had zero applicants for my vertical, I freaked out! However, within a week I managed to build a team of my own, with exactly the type of people I wanted. I still remember the day this guy walked up to me and said- "You just got the post because of your gender, you must’ve charmed the CP to get you here" these words are etched into my memory. But, that’s when I realized, there will always be people who will put you down, will make you feel bad about yourself because they can't do what you can, you just got to believe in yourself. Today, when I look back, at the naive girl that I was in my first year, the girl who’d easily let people get to her, the girl who’d get herself out of socialising at every possible instance. I feel liberated, liberated for the life this college and city has given me. Whether it’s the freedom and independence Mumbai offers in forms travelling alone at night, or bargaining or even travelling by a local train for the matter of fact. These are the small things I’d find myself being forever grateful for! Lastly, to all the people who have been a part of this journey, Thank you for making me the person that I am today! Mubaraka Danawala TY BFM #HONM #nmcollege #tybfm

A post shared by Humans of NM (@officialhumansofnm) on

Humans Of Hindu College

Posts: 54

Followers: 1211

Frequency: Twice a week

Began on July 26, 2019

As the Mental Health and Counselling Cell of the college, Friend’s Corner founded the page, students have continued to reveal the process of finding their political identity. The Girl’s Hostel guard, Ram Dulari Bhaiya reveals his high aspirational goals for the students. Girls question patriarchy and boys maintain a ‘cool vibe’ through their stories. The element that is found common in all stories is the inspirational plot. The page has mentioned the course and the batch of the students.

View this post on Instagram

"I am from Chennai but I have never really lived there. During my school years, I have stayed in Austria, Saudi Arabia, Chile and Zimbabwe. I came to Delhi University for college and since then, Hindu has legit been everything. Initially, being a hosteler, my entire life revolved around college activities. In my third year, I left the hostel and started staying home. I realized then that the time I had naturally been spending with the family I had created here, was now difficult to find. What was at first a natural result of us all being in proximity was now becoming difficult. I did not want the time I spend with my loved ones to feel mechanical and over power the emotional aspect. Primarily because I felt the slight pressure of being timed (had a curfew of much earlier than what I had in the hostel). I eventually (although it took time) grew to build a balance between my family and college life. I come from a family of diplomats and that had unconciously made me a very diplomatic person. That changed when I came to college because it felt as though people here didn't want diplomacy, they wanted realness. I learned to open up and move past the habit of always trying to be nice and repressive at all times and to everyone. I hate change, I understand its inevitability but I hate it nevertheless. If it hurts, it hurts. And with the third year ending, another wave of change is fast approaching. It does scare me to think what will become of all of us and of all the friendships and if they will survive the test of time. But nevertheless, being brought up in a transferable home since childhood, I certainly do believe that love and affection surpass all barriers set by distance and time. When I first came to college, I think I was more carefree. I feel a lot more insecure and self-conscious now. With time, I have become more sensitive, to myself and the world." "College is where you will learn about a lot of things, your political identity included, so don't shy away from it." Priyadarshini Rajendran 3rd year English honours Priyadarshini (aka PD) loves being wished on her birthday (3 the date and 3 the month) and also loves dogs!

A post shared by Humans Of Hindu (@humans.of.hindu) on

Humans of Macleans College

Posts: 27

Followers: 523

Frequency: Infrequent

Began on February 14, 2019

While all the students portrayed were dressed in their college uniforms, there was a combination of love stories, a tale of bonding over the TV show – How I Met Your Mother and an eye-rolling dialogue, “A’s before baes.” A student also spoke about her experience while she went through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and this page played the cards of high relatability with every story shared. The typical setting of a college was perfectly defined by this page through its tales.

Humans of St. Stephen’s

Posts: 80

Followers: 1241

Frequency: Weekly

Began on September 18, 2018

With over a thousand followers, this page actively supported the students of Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh University. Students restricted themselves to talking about college only. It stands by the mission of “Capturing the essence of Stephania in the people who make it, build it, rebuild it and construct the glory of the college in a unique threshold.” The stories comprise messages for teachers, describe the rigorous learning culture, dogs in the campus and the holistic experience are the main subjects of conversations. People can also send feedback to the founders of the page via a link mentioned in the bio.

View this post on Instagram

I started college bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with a dream; now I get nightmares about being chased around college by bodybuilder muscle-flexing kangaroos. With the onset of classes, I became less fond of college, and I didn’t understand what the hype was about. To me, it felt like just another institution- a place I had to frequent in order to get a degree. As time passed by (might I add, so very quickly), and I struggled to juggle academics and extra-curricular activities, I kind of understood why a lot of people hold the Stephanian experience dear. Working for societies and accompanying the Stephen’s Choir on the piano gave me a sense of purpose, and without my realizing it, I now sometimes find myself thinking about how much I’ll miss this place in its entirety as the time to leave draws closer. It took me a while to get here, maybe longer than most, but the people I’ve gotten to know and grown to love will always hold a special place in the little, not so smooth-sailing three-year chapter of my life. If I think about it, I don’t know what’s more ironic- liking college when I thought I’d always dislike it, or as my friends never cease to remind me, majoring in Math and not being able to count. In all honesty, I’m finding it a little difficult to pen down my whole college experience, but if I were asked to do it all over again, I wouldn’t; I think I’ve had my fill. Chentisangla Longkumer IIIrd Year, Mathematics Honours Batch of 2020

A post shared by Humans of St. Stephen's (@humansofststephenscollege) on

Humans of DBIT

Posts: 6

Followers: 464

Frequency: 3 to 4 times a week

Began on January 11, 2020

On this page, teachers ensure how they aim to regain the self-worth of their students back. A story that stood out, belonged to a helping staff who described her bond with a teacher, who took her on a dinner to a reputed restaurant and how special this gesture was to her. Students claimed to have faced the ‘percentage pressure’ and shared an instance of coming out to parents in India. This page is run by the Literature Society of the college.

View this post on Instagram

"I never knew how to travel on my own, especially in Mumbai. When I joined Don Bosco, it was the first time I began to travel by myself. This place has made me so comfortable that I have grown to detest the Sunday Holidays now" I am Chabu Kakade, I am a helping staff here at Don Bosco. I was married off at the age of 14 and settled here in Mumbai in the early 1990s. I first arrived here in Don Bosco after my eldest son cleared his 10th Board examinations and wanted to get admitted at the ITI facility here. Madam then told me that we would have to pay ₹50,000 as fees. I didn't have the money. I asked her if she could do something for me. She helped me get a job here as a peon. Unfortunately, my son couldn't meet the age requirements and had to take admission elsewhere. Funnily enough it was I who had landed up in my son's dream college. Life was never the same again. Naina was my senior peon and helped me acclimate with the environment. I still remember Nilakshi Ma'am from Computer Department, she was one of the few people who made me feel as if I was her own, I could share anything and everything with her. Once she took Naina and me to a grand restaurant for dinner at Mira Road. That was the first and only time till date when I stepped out of the world except for my house and college. My Husband is a drunkard and living with him can be an ordeal but our children never complain, we just try to bring out the best in our circumstances. I have been in Don Bosco for quite some time now and an inexplicable bond has developed between this place and myself. I feel blessed when someone appreciates or acknowledges my existence in this campus. This place has eventually turned out to be my second home. It aches my heart when I see students waste their precious time pursuing frivolous obsessions. I come from a background where to even sit on the very benches that you all regularly do is a dream many would not dare to imagine. I only hope that we all realise how truly blessed we are, and may none of you ever be so forward to devalue the worth of this place, for mothers like me have struggled night and day harbouring an innocent hope of giving our children a life like yours.

A post shared by Humans of DBIT (@officialhumansofdbit) on

Humans of Boston College

Posts: 102

Followers: 759

Frequency: Twice a week

Began on February 3, 2015

As the students give their honest advice for the incoming students, the page states its vision as “Get to know Boston College, one Eagle at a time.” The Instagram page is paired with a CTA to their Facebook page that shares the full stories, as Instagram only posts an excerpt from the story. A student proudly confessed, “In the last sentence of the application letter I wrote that, ‘I see the Woods College as a place where I will be valued not just as a student but as a person.’” Other stories had religion, experience in volunteering in Nepal and tales by the ground maintenance staff.

Also Read: Storytelling to engage & persuade

Humans Of St. Francis College

Posts: 32

Followers: 628

Frequency: Infrequent

Began on November 27, 2018

The founders of this page followed the approach of interviewing the ‘humans’ There were idealistic answers on teamwork, human mistakes by students in uniforms. The authenticity of the page was reassured when a teacher shared an experience where the Principal of the college ended up scolding students in the assembly.

View this post on Instagram

Rachit: I remember it was back in class X when I first got into the meme culture. Now, on returning from picnic, we shared all the pictures on our WhatsApp group and there was a particular picture where Naman was lying down in a rather peculiar position, somewhat similar to Kate Winslet’s evergreen Titanic pose. All I did was add the iconic ‘French girls’ line at the bottom of the picture and it turned out to be quite hilarious for us. Fortunately, (Unfortunately for Naman) my friends around really appreciated that meme which encouraged me to such an extent that till date, I never let go of an opportunity to meme my peers. (grins) There was a time when I hardly had any friends in school, and as a matter of fact, making memes was an attempt at trying to socialize better with those around me. Luckily, it all worked out in the end. I: Tell us something about your experience in Expression this year Rachit: Ever since class VIII, it was a dream for me to participate in Innovation, which in my opinion, even then, was the single biggest event in Expression. Luckily this year, I got the chance to be a part of the team and it was just thrilling. So on the day of the final act, there I was, in that outfit, instead of being Doraemon ended up looking more like a crossover of a Smurf and Pennywise.(smiles in nostalgia) Nonetheless, it was the happiest I have ever felt looking the stupidest I have ever looked. To go up there, with hundreds of your Franciscan brothers cheering you on, chanting ‘Pepsi Cola Lollipop’, is just…electrifying…and those few minutes will remain etched in the deepest parts of my heart for a lifetime. I:Any parting words? Rachit: Dora, Dora!(laughs)

A post shared by Humans of St. Francis' College (@humansofstfrancis) on

Humans of CU

Posts: 113

Followers: 2000

Frequency: Twice a week

Began on February 1, 2019

Having a community of two thousand followers, the page stands by uniformity in the format and reality in the stories. Students talk about their familial struggles, passing through difficult phases in terms of health and standing headstrong through that! In fact, the teachers were humble enough to reveal their own work performances. There were tales of students exiting their comfort zones and gaining a plethora of learnings via real life experiences.

View this post on Instagram

I'm from a closely-knit Tamil joint family. Beginning in school, I wasn’t put under undue academic burden. I wasn’t the quintessential ‘good student’. Yet, due to the lack of the ‘pressure’ to succeed or due to the genes in the family, I excelled in all my degrees, including my PhD without too much of a hassle. I started looking for jobs when I was 20, at a time when opportunities were limited. I got a call from GSK & they wanted me to start working there the very next day! That was the beginning of my long and fruitful career of 30 years in marketing and supply chain operations. My career grew in leaps & bounds – not only because of my performance at work but because of my integrity, which I learnt from watching my father at work. My honesty & reliability in handling 1000s of crores for the company was always duly recognized & rewarded. Despite my success, at some point, I started to feel like I missed out on my daughter’s early childhood owing to corporate pressures. I also felt the need to contribute to society by passing on my experience to impressionable students. And so, although I had never planned on it, I left my illustrious, comfortable corporate life to enter the academia. I didn’t see it coming but my decade-long career in the academia has given me more joy than the corporate world ever did. Life is full of twists and turns but I have always believed what a mentor of mine once told me – there are no problems, only solutions. Although this sounds like cliché advice, I really have imbibed this philosophy. I’ve tried to turn every challenge into an opportunity & use it as a stepping stone to grow further. At this point in my life, I think I’ve achieved most of what I have wanted to. I've a beautiful family. I’ve watched my daughter grow & succeed on her own accord. My career has witnessed two polarities – from the dynamic corporate to the relatively unperturbed academia & I've been lucky enough to lead a successful life in both of these. I'm nearing the beautiful journey of this 45-year long eventful & satisfying career & I have few regrets or rather no regrets in life. I'm a stong believer in destiny and look forward to what life has in store for me!

A post shared by Humans of CU (@humansofcuofficial) on

While most of these initiatives are student-led, they give an insight into how educational institutes now need a digital presence to communicate their stance to the world. With the increasing clutter in the industry, digital marketing for education brands is imperative and the ‘Humans of’ strategy could be the first step towards it.