When life gives you lemons...

You took advice from the marketing gods and you created a Facebook page for your organization. You’ve started posting regularly and have tasked a social media intern to source quotes and fun facts for the ever so predictable “Motivational Monday” and “Words of Wisdom Wednesday” posts. This millennial savvy intern of yours probably has a printed calendar of all the quirky holidays for every day of the year somewhere on their desk.  

By the way, today is National Lemonade Day and we suggest you grab yourself a tall glass of spiked lemonade for what we’re about to reveal to you: YOUR NONPROFIT FACEBOOK PAGE IS MUCH MORE BORING THAN YOU REALIZE. 

You probably already knew that, though. We know how disappointing it is to continually log in to your social media accounts, hoping for more than 2 likes and a 9 person outreach on your posts, knowing that your executive team is counting on some form of ROI. So what better way to face this harsh sense of reality than to learn from the photography-blog-turned-Facebook-page-phenomenon that’s storming around everybody’s news feeds?

Photographer Brandon Stanton founded Humans of New York in summer 2010 as what was originally a photo project capturing 10,000 faces of the Big Apple. The ongoing everyday street photography project has now evolved into a mixed medium by combining candid portraits with poignant personal stories as photo captions.

With its warm hearted, celebrating tone, this unique Facebook page has 14.6 million page followers and averages more than 90,000 status likes and 1,000 shares and comments per photo post!

Envision Blog 08202015 HumansOfNewYork Facebook Screenshot

Additionally, Humans of New York (HONY) has used its network as a way to bring awareness and raise funds for selected causes. Four days after an IndieGoGo campaign launch, HONY helped raise more than $2.2 million with over 74,000 participants to support the Bonded Labour Liberation Front, which estimates that 4 million Pakistanis work at brick kilns in bonded forced labor. Forget the Ice Bucket Challenge, this is the power of social media.

So the question that every company is asking its marketing department is, how is this particular Facebook page continually going viral, even though each post created follows the same formula? As experts, we figured it out for you. Here’s how HONY succeeds:

Storytelling involves more than just capturing the “right” quotes and consulting a well versed writer to put together a blurb. It starts with asking the right questions. Stanton asks simple, but thoughtful questions that allow people to be open and insightful without forcing the conversation.

Although Stanton has undeniably great quality photos (he is a photographer after all), a compelling photo is more than a crisp image with stellar lighting. The photos that HONY shares aren’t snapshots of celebrities and models like in your typical street style fashion photos. Stanton captures everyday people in their everyday lives and nothing is staged or preconceived.

HONY typically offers more information in the comments section of each post, often tagging the actual people he meets, further bridging the people he features with the HONY community. We particularly like this post of a child who talks about how to not drown in water. While Stanton never reveals the questions that were asked that encouraged this child’s words of wisdom, followers comment and share their imaginative, relatable interpretations.

So how can you apply these principles and make your Facebook page stand out? Our tips on how to make your Facebook more colorful:

The quickest way to boring the minds out of your followers is posting the same things all the time. Don’t be the nonprofit that engages on social only when you need something like donations or bodies at an event. Mix things up by incorporating fun elements like dedicated days (#TBT #FBF, anyone?) and try switching between text statuses and photo or link-based posts.


You don’t need to hire a journalist or PR consultant to generate great stories. Work with your team to put together a story bank where any one can pull biographies and quotes not just for social media, but other marketing materials. Additionally, keep a running list of leads so you have a pool of people to reach out to when you’re in need of stories.


You have to admit that when using your personal social media accounts, you’re more likely to respond to all of your friends’ and family’s comments and questions, which usually leads to a mini virtual conversation. That same connection and instant gratification can and should be applied to your organization’s followers. Responding with a sense of urgency results in instant gratification for your followers, positioning you as reliable, alert, and aware of how valuable each and every one of your followers are.


If you haven’t picked up on it yet, what makes HONY so successful is the fact that it remembers to put the “social” in social media and continues to deliver a human element every time. 

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