This semester, I joined Humans of the Forty Acres as an interviewer. Last week, our Facebook page hit 10,000 likes. What a great way to kick off the school year.
Humans of the Forty Acres is a spin-off of Humans of New York. Our Facebook page tells the stories that can’t be found in recruitment brochures, featuring real Longhorns and real talk. We prowl campus each week, making new friends, and sharing their stories.
Some of our interviews are funny…
“When you’re an older sibling, you become pretty manipulative.
I had this lazy phase during my childhood where I didn’t even want to get my own water. I would tell my younger sister ‘I’m dying, go get me some water.’ I was prone to fainting as a kid, so my little sister totally bought it.
One time, we were at a kid’s birthday party when I got thirsty. I laid down on the floor and announced that I was dying. The other kids at the party freaked out but my little sister calmly walked over, felt my pulse (even though she didn’t know how), and told everyone that all I needed was some water. While this was happening though, one of the kids ran into the other room and told all the parents.
My mom told me to stop lying about my death and taught my sister how to actually read somebody’s pulse.”
Some interviews are inspiring…
“My favorite part about teaching is changing the lives of people. If I was just responsible for teaching the subjunctive and vocabulary, that would suck.
I don’t think of myself as a Spanish professor. Many people here look at students from the one perspective they have to deal with. The financial aid advisor cares about your money, the Spanish professor cares about your Spanish, and the undergraduate advisor cares about you graduating on time. I think students sometimes have a hard time finding somebody who looks at them like a whole person. I tell my students, ‘Listen, if your mother has cancer and you are worried, or you’re having issues with your apartment, or you’ve broken up with your girlfriend, that affects your classwork. You can talk to me about those things.’
Professors can teach students how to master their subject, but also how to navigate life. These are the interactions that build ties for years. I love hearing back from students two years after they’ve taken my class. When you offer students the chance to connect with somebody who actually cares for them and is interested in who they want to be, some of them will welcome that.”
(Girl on Left): “I registered for his class a year ago. From day one, I felt like I belonged there. To this day, walking into that class was one of the best decisions of my life. He was so approachable and he structured the course like a family, not a classroom.”
“I gave her back her first paper saying ‘This is totally wrong written,’ and I’m surprised she doesn’t mention that. I felt so bad about it. But I think that’s when the learning happens. If you are always successful, you won’t learn anything. You learn from errors.”
And some interviews are tear-jerking…
“This past summer, both my parents got diagnosed with cancer. My dad was diagnosed with stage 2 liver cancer on May 13. He told me through text three minutes before my final exam. That was pretty rough.
My mom got diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer on July 5. My dad is living a pretty normal life, but my mom, her life has gone a complete 180. She used to be a hair-stylist. Now, she doesn’t go to work. She’s bedridden.
Being an only child, this put me in this whole perspective of being an adult. I kind of felt like an adult, but it wasn’t really until both my parents were diagnosed that I had to become the head of the household. Both my parents are divorced, so I’m my mom’s primary caregiver.
Most 21 year olds are out drinking on 6th Street or just hanging with their friends late at night. I’m staying up late, but it’s to give my mom her pain meds, help her use the restroom, help her walk, give her food whenever she wants. She uses a walker, and I have to watch her step so she doesn’t fall.
One of the hardest things is having to make it seem that nothing is wrong. I have to go about my day. Go to lecture. See my friends. I can’t always be breaking down. I have to put up a front almost, to just go about my day and smile. Even though it might seem the world may be breaking down, it doesn’t stop for you.
Have compassion and care towards others. I’ve always been a genuine, caring person. But ever since this happened, I’ve realized that you never know what people are going through. If someone is being rude, just brush it off. You never know what’s going on in their life.
I’m not trying to seem that I’m going through the toughest thing in the world. Everyone has their own problems. Stay optimistic. Have a positive outlook. I’m just here to make my mom proud.”
In addition to learning about people’s experiences and perspectives, here are my three key takeaways:
1. Content is King
We post five stories each week. In the past two weeks, four of these stories have over 1,000 likes each. We don’t ask people to click the “share” button, yet they do. We don’t ask people to share their own stories in the comments section, yet they do. We don’t indulge Facebook by advertising our posts, yet we have tens of thousands of organic impressions. If you’ve made it this far in the article, that means you enjoyed the content, even if the stories were more than 140 characters long. No frills, no fancy algorithms, just amazing content.
2. Do Better
Humans of the Forty Acres was founded by my friend Jordan Cope in Spring 2015. At the time, there was an incumbent page, “Humans of UT,” that already had thousands of followers. I thought Jordan was crazy for starting a new page when there was already one out there. However, if you look at the page now, you’ll notice that the last Humans of UT post was in December 2015. Jordan shared so many great stories in one semester that Humans of UT couldn’t keep up, so they gave up. Sometimes, you just need to do “a better job” than your competitor to win. Uber and Lyft may essentially offer the same solution, but Lyft has been kicking some Uber butt lately by doing “a better job” with their service.
3. We Love to Share
When I walk up to strangers and ask them if I can interview them, 50% say, “My life isn’t that interesting.” Five minutes into the interview, they begin to realize just how interesting they are. Their eyes sparkle and their words flow like nectar. Awkward introductions transition into deep conversations. One girl ran to the bathroom to fix her hair before starting the interview. Deep down, we all want to be heard, to feel important. Humans of the Forty Acres’ value proposition is “we value who you are.”
So how does all this relate to marketing? In a nutshell, or shall I say, in an acre, I think companies focus too much on “pushing content” customers don’t care about or “telling the brand story” customers don’t relate to. Let’s take a moment to listen to our customers and fellow human beings before we speak. Ask the right questions, and you may be surprised by what you hear.
If you are a human of the forty acres with a story to share or a love for sharing other people’s stories, please click here to contact me.