Social media campaign teaches TCU students to talk to strangers

Humans of TCU

A woman with purple hair caught Elle Sparks’ attention one day when she was at the Circle Cleaners on Blue Bonnet Circle.

Sparks, a 20-year-old junior majoring in strategic communication at Texas Christian University, is taking a class called Strategic Writing. One of the class assignments is to find a random stranger, either at TCU or around the TCU area, and start a conversation. If the person says something interesting, then the student must take that person’s picture and record a quote from the person. The picture and quote will then be posted to a Facebook page called “Humans of TCU,” modeled after a similar initiative called Humans of New York.

When Sparks noticed the woman with purple hair working at the cleaners, Sparks realized she had found her subject. She struck up a conversation with the woman and found out that both the woman and another colleague at the cleaners had purple hair. They told Sparks they dyed their hair purple to “fit in” with the TCU community, since many of the cleaners’ customers are students or fans.

Sparks asked the women whether they wanted to take part in the Humans of TCU campaign. They agreed.

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Their photo was later posted to Facebook, captioned with a quote from one of the women in the photo: “We blend in perfectly but our purple hair helps us fit in.”

“I think she was flattered when I asked her to be on the Humans of TCU page,” Sparks said. “I definitely think people like when others talk to them and take interest in them. I think it’s really cool. It just helps unite the community.”

But Humans of TCU isn’t just about telling short stories of people in the university community, although that is one of the main purposes of the project, said Amiso George, the professor teaching the Strategic Writing course.

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George said the initiative teaches students to sharpen their communication skills, be observant and gather information – all qualities a person needs for a career in advertising or public relations.

“You cannot be in our profession and be shy,” George said. “You have to learn how to strike up a conversation and get information from people in a non-intimidating manner.”

The Facebook page began in January and gained more than 700 likes within two months. George, who was a fan of the Humans of New York page, wanted to start one for TCU but didn’t want it to be a page that has a few posts and then eventually stops being updated.

So she made participation a class requirement. Each student has to produce two posts a week, and George reviews the content to make sure nothing inappropriate gets posted. She also saves some of the photos and quotes to be posted during the holiday breaks when students are not in class.

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TCU isn’t the only school doing a “Humans of…” campaign. Rice University and the University of Texas also have Facebook pages with a similar concept. The “Humans of…” initiatives originated with Humans of New York, a page that has nearly 17 million followers.

Sparks, who plans to pursue a career in marketing or public relations, said the project has helped her hone skills that she’ll eventually use in her field.

“It’s really important to step out of your comfort zone and network and meet people,” she said. “This project and this assignment helps me. It helps me as a writer, promoting and talking about things. That’s what so many events are, just word of mouth and talking to people, getting to know people. I really just think it’s a great project, and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.”