Does Your Social Pass the “Be Useful to Others” Test?



Will Smith has four words to encapsulate his view on happiness – how can you use them to guide your social media efforts?


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In a recent interview for Tidal’s Rap Radar, actor, rapper, and generally inspirational guy Will Smith shared his secret to happiness. And as someone who’s reached the top of several different pursuits, he knows a little something about the topic.

“I’ve been to the top of all those material-world mountains and nothing makes you happy other than being useful to others,” Smith said plainly. “That’s it. That’s the only thing that ever will satisfy…is that what you’re doing is useful.”

As we explore the many ways to assess our social media presence—how many followers we have, how many likes or comments or shares our content receives, have we gone “viral”—Smith’s definition of happiness might seem at once ethereal and quaint. Is our content useful to others? How would we know? And how can it be?

“First, Help This Person.”

Writer Bruce Kasanoff has a maxim that I always return to when scanning my inbox, overwhelmed with requests, or when I debate how to best market my own services as a writer or speaker: “first, help this person.” Leading with a desire and ability to help changes the tenor of my email responses (especially if, for some reason, I can’t help), and it changes the way I sell who I am and what I do.

It’s easy to lead with the reasons why our brand or service is great. We know it well, and we assume once we share it that other people will see it too. It’s a little harder to center the reader or recipient in our thinking. What challenges are they facing? What do they need? And how does our work address that challenge or meet that need? Being useful to others means posting content that can easily answer those questions. And I think you’ll find that when you embrace that role of helper, the way you talk about yourself will change…as will the way your audience sees and hears you.

At Least Don’t Hurt Them…

If you’re unclear of how precisely how to help those you speak to through your social media, do your best to not hurt them. The scrapping that goes on between brands (see: Wendy’s versus everyone) is one thing, as is the occasional ribbing that can go on between social media managers for sports teams, but speaking in a way that appreciates and respects your followers is quite another. Most brands should consider this paramount when interacting across platforms, and the impact of such outreach can be incredible.

In a social-facing role, it’s likely that you’ll start to see conversations that “echo”: the same questions posed over and over, the same comments in response to challenges, and increasingly complaints placed in areas where you don’t expect. Responding to these frequent communications with patience and understanding (your millionth time answering a query may be their first time seeing it) will go far further than letting frustration or boredom shine through. And while not required, creating moments that surprise and delight – like user-generated content reveals or giveaways – can also be classified as “useful.”

Make ‘Em Laugh

And speaking of service with a smile, remember that even making someone smile can be classified as useful. Smith shares in the interview a time where a viral video featuring him made Jay-Z laugh, so hard that the rapper called him to say he was debating cancelling his show with Beyoncé that evening so the pair could stay home and watch the video on a loop. While your efforts may not be the kind to cause delays for a world tour, you have the ability to be of use by providing a moment of good humor.

Lean into cultural touchpoints, industry inside jokes…and rely on the senses of humor of those around you. In doing this, you’ll likely cause a few chuckles- and endear followers to you further in the process. Social media efforts are most successful when they reveal the humanity behind a brand; robotic responses or posts rarely engage anyone. How can that humanity harness a bit of humor? Doing so in a manner that’s authentic to your brand isn’t always easy, but when done thoughtfully and with your audience in mind, these efforts can yield more success than you might imagine.

All the worry over metrics and advice about how often to post, means little if the content we present isn’t useful to the community we’re trying to build. As you build out an editorial calendar, be sure to think not only about the content you’ll share, but also the people you’ll help. Pursuing these goals in tandem will help you post responsibly, effectively, and meaningfully.

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