Add one part street photography to one part human interest story, and you get the world-famous Humans of New York. HONY started as a photography project by Brandon Stanton in 2010. His goal was to photograph 10,000 people in New York City. Somewhere along the way, Stanton began to interview his subjects as well. When he started sharing their stories along with his photos, he created a viral sensation. People loved it.
The success of Humans of New York has lead to two New York Times Bestselling books, countless spinoffs in other cities around the world, and, as many Junctioneers know, several organization-specific spinoffs published on your intranets.
The case for personal content on your intranet
Here is the unvarnished truth: humans are addicted to stories.
Think about it; we love movies, books, television, and podcasts. We admire people who can spin up a tale at a dinner party, and many of us pay to see a comedian stand on a stage with nothing but a microphone, stool, and glass of water, to tell well-woven (and, hopefully, hilarious) stories. And by the end of the day, when we’re done consuming stories and we drift to sleep, our brains tell us new stories (we just wake up and call them dreams).
But why are we so story-addicted?
Science shows that while facts activate the data center in our brains, stories activate the sensory centers. MRI data tells us that the same areas activated in the speaker’s brain are activated in the listener’s brain when listening to a story. The listener’s brain is reacting as if experiencing the story itself. Our love for stories may stem from our ability to step into another’s shoes, see the world from their perspective, and in the end, feel a little closer to one another.
The stories told in Humans of New York resonate with so many because they tap into our natural curiosity about the lives of others, all while celebrating the beauty of everyday life. The stories highlight a seemingly simple action that turns out to be extraordinarily impactful in someone’s life story.
Throughout the range of stories published, we see our shared insecurities, our shared struggles, and a shared experience of the messiness of modern human life. When one person comes forward to share their experience, it sweeps away any hidden shame and secrecy in those who have had similar experiences. We aren’t alone, we are seen, we are a community. Stories help us relate to one another.
Your intranet plays a key role in community, belonging, and togetherness for your organization.
Your concerns, addressed
Tempted to start a new series for your intranet? Indeed, employee Spotlights, or HONY spin-offs, are a common content suggestion from our Customer Success team. Still, we know there can be a lot of hesitation around starting the initiative. I want to dive into a few of the common objections and why they aren’t as big a barrier as you may think.
Some employees won’t want to be featured
That is okay! You don’t need to write profiles on everyone or measure your success by a 100% “Employee Spotlight” participation rate. Someone at your organization will be willing to participate. Focus on sharing their stories first. Often, once employees see other stories going up and the support among their colleagues, they’ll be more likely to give you the “yes” you’re looking for the next time you ask.
Staff will feel uncomfortable sharing too much of themselves
Remember, you aren’t forcing participants to reveal anything they aren’t comfortable with (or ready to talk about yet). Participants choose what story to focus on and how much of themselves they show. Be kind and respect what participants decide to leave unsaid.
No one wants to hear my stories
I understand how people might feel this way, but it’s simply not true. People want to know who you are, what you stand for, and the experiences that got you here. Large or small, we all have a story to tell. Don’t forget, we’re naturally curious creatures who love to know more about those we spend significant time with. (That story of the papaya thief might just be the thing to brighten someone’s day.)
Tips when creating this kind of content
Embrace the human
An actual person’s experience can turn an abstract issue into something understandable and relatable. For content of this kind, it’s crucial to write with a human touch. Embrace a conversational tone, limit any jargon, and allow room for natural language like slang. And, if you’re conducting your interview by Discussions or shared Google Doc, allow room for emojis/emoticons. They are, after all, a significant component of virtual communication in the 21st century.
Accentuate the positive
This one may seem like a “well, duh!” mention (we don’t want to be injecting a story purely of misfortune into the workday), but did you know that positive content is more viral? Positive emotions can help people cope, make better decisions, and increase their capacity to learn. Positivity can also lead to better attitudes, greater team cohesion, and increase employee engagement.
Wherever possible, focus on stories of joy, inspiration, gratitude, and resilience.
Show a face (or two)
When you’re ready to share your employee profile, don’t forget to tag on a photo of your featured participant! Our brains love faces. Why else would we constantly spot faces on the moon, in the shapes of clouds, or on our grilled cheese sandwiches? It’s so common, there is a term for it: pareidolia. Seeing someone’s face evokes our connection to the storyteller, and opens up our capacity for empathy.
Use our templates and resources
Don’t worry, we’re ready to help you get started in creating this kind of content for your intranet. Reach out if you're interested in our Jostler spotlight employee questionnaires!
Inspired by the wonders of human stories yet? We hope you choose to make space for personal stories in your intranet’s content strategy (if you aren’t already). Celebrate the flawed humans, the exceptional talents, the brave, the shy, the confident, the insecure, and everyone in between. Together, you can begin to tell a powerful collective story about the diverse people of your organization and show everyone at your company that they matter, their stories matter, and they all have a place in your workplace community.