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Why AARP Is on TikTok
"We saw TikTok as an opportunity to engage Gen Xers in new and creative ways."
The most convincing proof that TikTok isn’t just for Gen Z? Take a look at AARP’s delightful account. The organization, which is dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older, regularly gets over 1M views on videos and has a dedicated Gen X following.
For today’s newsletter I chatted with Amanda Knowles, Senior Director of Social Media & Content Integration at AARP. We talk about hiring a Gen X TikTok personality, building a social presence that makes people “feel attacked” (a good thing), and how to reach a 50+ demographic right now.
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Rachel Karten: First can you tell me about your current role and any other social (or not!) roles you've had?
Amanda Knowles: As Senior Director of Social Media & Content Integration at AARP, I lead a team of talented social media strategists and community managers and oversee our main social accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok.
Before coming to AARP, I spent the early years of my career at small nonprofits where I managed social, web, email marketing…you name it, I probably did it at some point!
RK: What's your social media philosophy? How would you distill down the way in which you approach this industry?
AK: For me, social media is all about connecting with people, building community, and finding ways to have meaningful interactions with people that will make them stop and think, “yeah, AARP really gets me.”
As a brand, we’re focused on helping our community make the most of their money, health, and happiness. What that looks like is different depending on the platform, but the goal is always the same. Whether it’s job search tips on LinkedIn, resources for caregivers on Facebook, or a funny video on TikTok—how can we use social media to make your life a little easier, a little better, a little brighter today?
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RK: Let's talk about AARP's TikTok. Talk to me about the decision to start an account for a non-profit that has a 50+ demographic on a channel that many think of as “for Gen Z”?
AK: One of the challenges our team focuses on is capturing the attention of Generation X. We’d already been doing that on Instagram for a few years and were looking for ways to expand that strategy.
While TikTok is often thought of as exclusively a place to reach Gen Z, the fact is there are millions of users who are over 45—and that community just continues to grow. We saw TikTok as an opportunity to engage Gen Xers in new and creative ways, to connect with them through relatable and entertaining content, and to develop brand affinity.
RK: How would you describe your strategy on that channel?
AK: AARP’s TikTok is personality-driven, starring our resident Gen Xer and “TikTok guy” Craig Moorhead, and we tap into relatable experiences of aging with a heavy dose of both humor and nostalgia.
Our voice is witty, a little irreverent, and genuinely Gen X—steeped in ’80s and ’90s pop culture. Of course, we lean into trends whenever we can, and we take a lot of cues from the community. Some of our most successful content, like Gen X ASMR and Craig Explains the 80s, is driven by requests or ideas crowdsourced from the comments.
Community management is also a huge part of our strategy on TikTok. We are quick to engage with users who comment on our content, but we also regularly respond when we get tagged and proactively comment on content from other creators. There are so many great connections to be made in the comments!
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RK: Let’s talk about Craig. How did you go about choosing someone for a role like that?
AK: After outlining our platform strategy, we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted our on-screen personality to be. We were looking for someone relatable, who had a good feel for the platform and how to engage the audience, and who could make us laugh.
Since this role sits on the AARP Studios team, we were also looking for someone who could be both a video producer and on-screen talent. We did a search, watched demo reels, gathered input from our friends, family and coworkers…and, we found Craig! The community has really embraced him, he’s got fans.
The Gen X experience isn’t just one thing, so featuring other faces and voices on our channel has always been part of the plan, too. We’ve already brought a few fantastic Gen X creators onto our page, with more collabs in the works!
RK: Talk me through a specific TikTok post you are proud of! Why did it work?
AK: OK, let’s talk about Gen X ASMR Pt. 3. This series started off as a bit of a gag. ASMR was everywhere at the time, and we thought it would be funny to do a spoof with some old sounds you don’t hear very often these days. And then it BLEW UP. Our audience tripled in about 36 hours, and the comments were full of people asking for more. So, we made another video, and then another.
Part 3 includes an Etch-a-Sketch, a Polaroid, a floppy disk, and, by audience request, the very specific sound of flipping a cassette tape to side B in a Walkman and then closing it. We capped it off with about 2 seconds of a song, so short you might not even catch it if it wasn’t one of the most recognizable intros of all time.
Did we Rickroll our audience in 2022? Yep. And they loved it! I think it worked because the whole Gen X ASMR series kind of feels like an inside joke with our audience. The Rickroll doubles down on that, and it makes you want to watch the video again just to make sure you heard it right the first time, and then you want to share it with a friend. The series has 16 parts now, and this is still our most-watched episode with the most engagements.
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RK: I love all the comments like "I was amused until I saw the account was AARP and now I feel attacked”—how do you sort of play into these inside jokes with your audience?
AK: From day one, we knew that being successful on TikTok would mean laughing at ourselves and being in on the joke. We’ve completely embraced that, and it’s become a big part of our voice on this channel. Just look at our bio line, a nod to everyone’s favorite Steve Buscemi meme!
But I think the reason it works for us is that while we have fun with the jokes, we are actually creating content that people really enjoy. And we love seeing comments like, “if this isn’t a way to get me to follow a company on social media, I don’t know what is.” That’s one of the best parts about being on TikTok—the sheer joy we can create by simply doing the unexpected.
One of my favorite interactions happened early on when a Gen X creator duetted a video of ours, and we followed her back and commented, “Sorry in advance if you can relate 😎” She did a second video, laughing uncontrollably with our comment greenscreened in the background. Now, we’ve done two collabs with her!
RK: I feel like most people would think AARP would be heavily invested in a channel like Facebook. What does your strategy look like there and how does it differ from TikTok?
AK: Absolutely. Facebook remains our largest community, and is really the bread and butter of our social strategy and a huge driver of engagement for us.
You may not know that AARP has a team of journalists who publish a ton of content to our website daily (not to mention, AARP The Magazine, which is the most-read magazine in the country!). So, in many ways, we run our Facebook page more like a magazine or newspaper—we publish news, lifestyle, and entertainment content aimed at helping people live their best lives over 50.
RK: Are you hopeful for the future of social media?
AK: I am! There is a lot to be cynical about, but there are still so many good things about social media that remind me why I love what I do.
Being a brand on social media has never been more interesting than it is right now, and I love that social media professionals are finally getting our moment to shine and be seen!
RK: Any final thoughts?
AK: Sometimes, the best ideas are the ones that seem like terrible ideas at first. When I started at AARP, the idea of getting on TikTok was sort of a running joke on our team. But we kept our eye on it, we kept talking about it, and then one day it didn’t feel like such an outlandish idea anymore. Our audience was there and growing. We just needed to figure out how to become a part of their community.
It was a big swing. A big challenge. And a risk, for sure. But it’s turned out to be one of the most rewarding projects of my career.
Earlier this week, I sent a Logged On post for paid subscribers that was just a long list of crowdsourced hot takes! Here’s a sampling of some of the takes:
Social reporting is gray, arbitrary, and kind of made up.
Taylor Swift is the best marketer alive right now. Period. She has been since before she had a team.
Strategy is always—100% of the time—informed simply by vibes. Nobody has the CORRECT strategy and no one ever will. Snake oil makes a killing online.
Posting manually feels better than scheduling.
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