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Q&A: Tammy Gordon, director of social communications, AARP

Direct Marketing News talks with Tammy Gordon, AARP‘s director of social communications.

Q: How did you get started in this field?

A: I started my career in political campaigns doing advance press and fundraising. Then I worked in PR agencies. I was working at AARP media relations when I first started here. We did a project called “Create the Good” to increase [membership among] Baby Boomers and volunteering. As we were building that, I tried to learn about new technologies that are out there. I had been enamored with social media and building it into the web presence, and I became very excited about that.

Q: And that was the start of the organization’s social communications team?

A: After that project was over, I told [AARP’s EVP and Chief Communications Officer] Kevin Donnellan that I’d write a social communications guideline and build a plan for the team. That was two years ago. We launched a team last month. Donnellan and our CEO [A. Barry Rand] have been enormous advocates.

Q: I’m surprised you got so much C-level support.

A: That’s huge, because so many people struggle in these jobs to be aware of the potential of social.

Q: How did you convince them to invest in social communications, especially for an audience that traditionally isn’t thought of as the most active on social media?

A: We started tracking for six months and did a presentation about the channels and groups we had with zero dollars and zero staff allocations. So they got it from that moment on and invested in things like learning, going to conferences. Anybody who’s doing this is learning from the go and it changes. Every single week it changes. [Facebook or Google] change the algorithm on you or stuff goes down and you have to deal with it.

Q: Was it easy driving members to your AARP Facebook page?

A: When our members knew we had a Facebook page, they wanted to join it and be a part of it. But people don’t search on Facebook for “AARP.” What we do is we tell them their friends like it and we get a good return on that. We want one million fans by the end of the year [as of this writing, AARP has reached that goal]. We have more than 37 million members and a huge percentage of them tell us they’re on Facebook.

Q: You’ve overseen AARP’s social strategy for a few years, what was the biggest lesson you learned as you’ve expanded its social presence?

A: I feel like each year has a theme. Last year was the year we went from a plan to real, and we became embedded in the dashboard of the organization and got budget allocated. This year is the year where we move from social media to social marketing. And 2013 will be social business. Not just talking, but converting actions.

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