Social Media Advocacy Campaign Shapes AARP Healthcare Public Affairs Outreach


Social media advocacy and activism are tremendously impacting the national debate surrounding healthcare reform. AARP serves as a case study for efforts to shape public policy in the age of digital public affairs advocacy.

Paul Anderson, vice president for Communications Strategy and Public Relations at AARP reports on fast-growing social media action and adoption by the AARP membership and on the power of new media advocacy to drive engagement as part of a call to action.  

Paul sat down with “On the Record…Online,” the official podcast of the Public Relations Society of America 2010 International Conference, to discuss managing online public relations advocacy programs at AARP.  

At the conference, Anderson participated in a public affairs panel focused on public policy issues stemming from the healthcare overhaul.  Anderson joined AARP after three decades in journalism and public service. He has worked for The Miami Herald and in 2001, became deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Florida Sen. Bob Graham.

Following Graham’s retirement, Anderson became managing director of public affairs for the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Social Media Public Affairs Campaign Highlights

2:10 Social media advocacy case study: senior citizens represent the fastest-growing segment on Facebook.  In response to growing adoption, AARP has moved aggressively into social media advocacy, activism, networking applications, and blogs.

2:37 Social media advocacy drives community engagement more efficiently than ever before. AARP research determines which members will take suggested actions on the organization’s behalf and will follow relevant AARP social media campaigns.  

3:02 Healthcare reform served as the perfect example of how AARP uses social media for geographical and demographic targeting.

3:56 Social media activism requires that advocacy groups find people who agree with an institutional position and ensure their members take the right form of action.

4:12 Multiple social media communications channels represent a strategic challenge for the AARP.  Its leadership employs matrix management to integrate AARP channels and communities and ensure its content can be repurposed regardless of medium.

5:54 Mobile online communications enable organizations to create value for members through accessibility and ease of use.  AARP just launched several iPhone applications that leverage its publications and services, including a scan-able bar code app that enables members to get AARP discounts at participating stores using their iPhones.

6:51 Social media content must balance what is most helpful to audiences and move institutional priorities forward. The AARP editorial team offers a wide variety of guidance, news, and information on everything from recipes to vacations to medication. It also seeks to lead the community as it engages around policy positions.  

9:25 Social media listening supplies lobbying efforts with genuine conversations to bolster arguments. AARP seeks to start dialogues through its social networking sites, and listens closely to the comments on its blogs and articles.

10:09 Social media public affairs has come to depend heavily on social media as a lead vehicle for driving change.  The change, however, requires a true commitment to real-time conversation monitoring and to placing trust in members and staff.  Set your social media policy, distribute your messaging priorities and be prepared to debate robustly.

11:15 Creating a social media organization requires the opening up of communications and the crafting of social media policy. AARP staff in all 50 states are now empowered to blog, post their own comments on social networking sites, and to run their social networks.  

12:06 Social media outreach fuels lobbying efforts by supplying personal stories from any given Congressional district to reinforce an argument made to that Congressman on a policy position. During the health reform campaign debate, AARP used social media to collect and vet 15,000 stories from AARP members that reinforced policy positions around insurance coverage.  

14:19 Social media lessons learned for shaping public policy: organizations must build the capability to monitor comments on a website and in social media applications and to respond quickly and professionally.

16:35 End

About the Guest Host Greg Reeder is the director of the Marine Corps Element at Defense Media Activity and Editor-in-Chief at Marines Magazine, USMC, Washington, D.C.  

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