Midway through our interview, Curtis Midkiff, Director of Global Social Engagement at 23andMe, offers up an interesting analogy.
“Imagine that social media is a dinner party,” he says. “As a brand, you have access to the gathering, but you’re only a guest.”
“Brands need to read the room,” he continues. “They need to listen to the other attendees, and then participate in conversations where they can add value. Don’t chime in if there’s a conversation about something you’re not interested in — a book you haven’t read or a movie you’ve never seen.”
Speaking to Curtis is as fun as sitting next to him at an actual dinner party must be. He brims with creative energy and has an endless enthusiasm for discussing social media platforms he enjoys, platforms with untapped potential, and platforms to watch.
Throughout his career, he’s overseen social media for brands like Weber and Kroger, and now, 23andMe. He credits his professional success to “thinking big” and prioritizing content. As he explains it, “I’ve been around long enough to know that good content resonates. That’s my focus.”
The following is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
What happens during a typical workday at 23andMe?
A typical day right now involves heavy coordination with my team around strategy. What we’re trying to do right now is lay a foundation for the year ahead and the future of social engagement at 23andMe.
So we’re having a lot of conversations and doing a lot of strategy development to get us to a good point where we have everything in place that we’ll need for the long term.
I’m excited for the future of 23andMe, and I’m excited for what social is going to be. There’s a great foundation, and we’re just ready to build something unique. I want people to follow along for the ride and know that we’re working on something big.
What do you think the future of social media will look like?
The two things that have evolved the most in social media are brand storytelling and community development. Those two areas are the future of social media.
Initially, businesses used social media to post what they were doing and then what they wanted to promote. And, of course, they wanted to go viral. Those were the priorities.
And now I think people look at social media and social platforms as a place to have a conversation and build community. I think that’s the future of social — just really understanding brand storytelling and how to use different tools and platforms to tell your brand story in an entertaining and compelling way.
And another part of social media’s future is how you interact with the communities of people that engage with you – the ambassadors, influencers, and affiliates who are talking about your brand and are activated to advocate on your behalf on social channels.
What role does listening play in your social media strategy?
I consider social conversations to be the greatest unsolicited forum and focus group that’s out there. It’s people talking in an unsolicited, unbiased way.
By listening, you can understand what they think as it relates to your brand and some other factors that may influence the decisions necessary for them to interact with your brand.
It’s essential to understand how things in pop culture are being talked about — what are the trends that people are following, and who are they following? Who are they talking about?
Listening is the secret sauce. Because you can be outspent in social media by another brand who can put out flashier content or hire more influencers, but you shouldn’t get outworked. And the work is, how do you listen and get that information and bring that into the content development process and say, “here’s what folks are talking about; let’s try to intersect with that.”
Do you have a favorite social media platform?
You know, that’s a good question. I think for entertainment, it’s neck and neck between Instagram and TikTok because I think there’s so much rich content there that’s short-form and easily digestible. You can look up, and between reels and TikTok, you’ve lost an hour.
For business, I honestly think LinkedIn is the one platform that’s a sleeping giant for business. Because first and foremost, everybody’s there. And because it’s a professional network, people primarily use it to search for jobs which creates an audience that’s plugged in. So as a brand, you can tell all aspects of your story, and people are still interested.
It sounds like your role involves a lot of brainstorming and idea generation. What do you need to be creative?
The biggest thing I need – and I have it here – is the encouragement to think big. That’s how you must approach creative work.
You have to think big and think about ways to make an impression on people. Because you’re competing in a crowded space. You’re competing with that quirky influencer video and people sharing their trips. How do you think big and stand out so people will talk about your brand?
What should we know about you that doesn’t appear on your resume?
I’ve lived in most of the regions of the U.S. at some point in my life. I grew up in the Northwest, went to college in the South, spent quite a bit of time in the Northeast, and have recently lived in the Midwest.
I also have an amazing family: my wife and two little kids. My son is about to turn four, and my daughter is six. They’re my inspiration for everything and a great support system.
And I love 90s hip-hop music.
What advice would you offer to someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the thought of being a content creator in the crowded social media landscape?
The most important thing I’ve learned is not to think you know everything. Even though I’ve been a social leader in different capacities at different companies for over 12 years, I’ve always benefited from the teams I’ve assembled. They keep me plugged into what’s going on.
I always look to my teams to see what’s trending and how people are approaching this – I lean on them. I also focus on great content. Because great content can resonate on any channel.
That’s my advice: ask questions, connect with your team, think big, and prioritize great content.