How Lindy Drew turned “Humans of St. Louis” into a viral success

Lindy Drew is co-founder of Humans of St. Louis (

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Lindy Drew

Co-founder of Humans of St. Louis (

130,000 followers on Facebook

When Lindy Drew posts content online, she aims high. Her goal is understanding, particularly on issues of racial equity, gender equality and LGBTQ rights. Drew is co-founder of the blog Humans of St. Louis. The nonprofit group features the people and places that make St. Louis tick. It is the second most popular “Humans of” site in the United States after the Humans of New York (with 20 million followers).

Several times a week, the Humans of St. Louis team posts a compelling photo essay to Facebook ( and Instagram ( They are first-person stories accompanied by an environmental portrait of the subject. The stories are honest and candid. The people profiled are not famous. They are random St. Louisans telling their stories with the assistance of Humans staff and volunteers.

Humans of STL followers eagerly await each new installment, Drew said. That is her biggest reward.

“I enjoy the moment when we post the stories and the people who get to see what we’ve been working on jump on it like wildfire,” said Drew, 42. “That’s the really neat thing about having built the audience so big. We have a direct line of access to our audience, so they’re ready to see what we’re posting, and it’s really exciting to see how they complement the people we feature and get in on the conversation about what the subjects are talking about.”

The stories Drew and her team post can be thought-provoking. The rawness means some profiles are tough to read, like a February post in which an immigrant from Belarus explains that she can’t easily communicate with her relatives back home for fear of endangering them.

“A lot of our stories are heart-wrenching,” Drew said. “They can be jolting or triggering. So I don’t necessarily expect people to ‘like’ it.


“If we have a subject about being treated in a certain way because of the person’s identity, or a struggle they’re working through, it’s so neat to see random people jump in and praise them or give them advice. I feel like we’re the middleman who gets these one-on-one interviews and then we have the community to amplify that so tens of thousands of people get to be a part of that.”

One point of pride for Drew and Humans of STL is that they do not manipulate their social media reach by buying clicks. 

“If a story we share is powerful because of the way the person tells it, it automatically has a really high audience reach, anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000,” she said. “In our first couple of years, it would reach 80,000, 150,000, 200,000 with no problem, but Facebook put some barriers up so now you have to pay to play and we never thought that was cool. We’ve never boosted a post on a regular everyday photo story. The reach and sharing is totally organic.”

Drew was drawn to the project because she was relatively new to St. Louis. She moved here in 2013 to attend Washington University, where she earned a master’s degree in social work and public health. She is also a skilled documentary photographer. Eager to learn more about her new home, she created the blog to learn more about average St. Louisans and share their stories.

“I wanted to know who lives here, what’s the vibe like, and I hope we’ve created a platform to give more insight about the people who live here and the way they experience it.”

Related stories: