AARP: Never Too Late To Think 'Mobile First'

Sami-HassanyehWith more than 37 million members, the AARP is one of the largest advocacy organizations in the U.S. The acronym is also synonymous with the 50+ demographic it represents. But that audience is not often associated with early tech adopters. MediaPost recently spoke with Sami Hassanyeh, vice president of AARP’s digital strategies and operations, about the group’s efforts to expand its media properties across platforms as its membership becomes more tech-savvy.

MP: What’s your approach to mobile in connection with the AARP membership?

SH: Baby boomers account for about 40% of paying customers for wireless services. The audience is already mobile. We see about 15% of our unique visitors come from mobile. Mobile traffic has grown for 10 or 12 consecutive months, so the audience is mobile-friendly. We have a "mobile first" mindset; we want to make sure for everything we design, right out of the gate, the mobile experiences are built in.

MP: What form does that take?

SH: One of the projects we are working on now is a responsive design experience for our Web site across the board. While we have an m-dot version of, and we have apps on iPhone, iPad and Android for the Web site and our magazine, we are rebuilding our digital experience to take advantage of all devices.

MP: Does that involve using HTML5?

SH: Yes. We want to make it so that any personalization and customization you make on one platform automatically transitions to another platform. There are some technical things we need to work through, but we’re quite confident we’ll be in the market in the Q2 time frame, and hopefully sooner.

MP: Are you running advertising on your mobile platforms yet?

Yes. Inside the iPad app, on the iPhone and Android apps, as well as on the mobile site, above and below the content. Our iPad app is sponsored by Chase.

MP: Where do you see most usage -- the mobile Web or apps?

SH: We see a lot more engagement overall on mobile than on apps, but over time, we see apps becoming a greater share of the overall experience. When people use our apps, they’re more willing to spend time with us. When they use the mobile version of our site, they’re engaged, but for a shorter window of time.

MP: How many app downloads have you had to date?

We had 319,000 total downloads as of September, and 150,000 of those are for the main iPhone app. The iPad app, released a couple months ago, has 26,000 downloads.

MP: Switching to video, AARP just relaunched its YouTube channel. What is the role of online video for the organization?

SH: The YouTube redesign is to ensure that users can find our content, see the breadth of the [2,000 videos] we have, and target them with the kind of content most relevant. Our objective is also to leverage it in such a way that it’s shareable and distributed across multiple platforms.

MP: Have any AARP videos gone viral?

SH: We can one called the 100-year-old bride, about a lady who at 100 wanted to get remarried. That one has over half a million views on YouTube. And we also did our take on “Call Me Maybe,” which isn’t doing badly. It has a social mission slant, which is call your grandparents on Grandparents Day. No maybe about it. So it’s important to infuse our objectives into some of the videos.

MP: was listed by comScore as one of the fastest-growing sites in July. Was that related to a redesign or any particular step?

SH: We’ve seen a significant increase in our unique visitors over the last 12 months or so. [comScore] put us around 6.9 million in July and we exceeded 8 million in September. We optimize the site on an ongoing basis.

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