AARP's SongTheme: boost community engagement with music

Person viewing SongTheme on AARP Community - iTalent Digital blog

Organizations of any size and scope often face the constant challenge of keeping their members engaged and connected. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) - the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering Americans aged 50 years and older - faced the same predicament as it sought to keep its vast online community engaged and connected.

Until they hit upon a unique approach. Music!

The nonprofit was successful in driving engagement by introducing the magic of music to its online community.

Let's dive into the story of AARP's SongTheme™ and how it boosted member engagement in its online community, built on Khoros.

The birth of AARP's SongTheme™

AARP's community is a place where members could communicate, exchange ideas, and find common ground. In 2009, the nonprofit introduced a ‘Rock ‘n Roll Board,' where members engaged in song challenges, answering questions with song titles. This simple idea sparked immense interest, Quote from AARP community manager - iTalent Digital bloggenerating nearly 100,000 replies and over five million views within the community. 

It was evident that members were eager to connect through music.

Once AARP recognized the enormous potential of music to drive engagement, it decided to take its musical outreach to the next level by creating a Spotify-integrated multimedia gamification feature. The aim was to create themed playlists that could be enjoyed collectively, and in the process, enhance member engagement and overall value.

The influence of music on the human brain is profound. It has been scientifically proven to improve cognitive abilities and stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for memory and movement. AARP has teamed up with the Global Council on Brain Health to promote healthy habits that help maintain
mental health.

Unique challenges

Building the interactive AARP's SongTheme™ feature, however, came with a unique set of challenges. First, since the original game grew organically from within the AARP community, the goal was to keep it there.

Secondly, they wanted to limit access to certain premium features to AARP members only, which requires a paid subscription (joining the online community is free). It was also important to keep it simple and clean without needing elaborate actions or downloading additional apps to play.

Since this functionality does not exist natively on Khoros and had never been created before, the solution had to be custom-built from scratch and integrated with AARP’s database.

The next challenge was adding this activity to AARP’s loyalty program. This enables AARP membersAARP's SongTheme on a phone - iTalent Digital blog that play to gain loyalty points that they can later cash in for sweepstakes entries, local deals, discounted gift cards, and charitable donations, to name a few. This process required the integration of the activity with AARP’s existing rewards program system, which is internal to AARP but has components that are managed externally by a 3rd party, increasing the complexity of the endeavor.

The most demanding aspect was the integration of AARP's SongTheme™ with Spotify. AARP wanted users to listen to songs from within the community and also have the option to export community-created playlists to their personal Spotify accounts. Navigating Spotify's API, which is closely guarded due to copyright and other regulations, required an exceptionally skilled DevOps and systems integrations team.

iTalent Digital partnership

To bring its vision to life, AARP chose iTalent Digital at the recommendation of Khoros. The result was AARP's SongTheme™ web page, where authenticated users could select from ten available themes and submit song choices that matched those themes. AARP members could earn reward points for their contributions. Users could listen to 30 seconds of each song directly on the web page and also open Spotify to enjoy the full versions and save the playlists created by the community.

The process was designed to be simple, clean, and straightforward, with minimal technical support overhead. The collaboration between AARP, Khoros, and iTalent Digital was incredibly smooth, as noted by AARP's online community manager.

Remarkable results

The results of AARP's SongTheme™ were nothing short of remarkable. Within three months of its launch in early 2023, it had become an integral part of the online Khoros community, with 26% of unique visitors actively engaging with the app. The page had an impressive returning visitor rate of 85%, with 92% of page visitors being known users registered on

The music engagement aspect of AARP's social mission was embraced by 70% of community visitors. AARP's SongTheme™ accounted for 16% of all member actions (joins, renews) and power actions (site registrations and activations to AARP Rewards and AARP Staying Sharp programs).

This music experience offered by this initiative is dynamic, with ten active themes continually modified by community admins based on holidays and categories relevant to AARP's social mission. It is also designed to enhance memory by disabling auto-complete prompts when users enter song names, encouraging them to exercise their memory.

AARP's SongTheme™ is a testament to the power of creativity and innovation in engaging online communities. By responding to its community's love of music, AARP not only strengthened member engagement but also promoted cognitive health among its audience. The journey had its challenges, but the results speak for themselves. AARP's SongTheme™ is a remarkable success story that demonstrates the potential of integrating diverse elements to create a unique and engaging online experience.

AARP's journey shows that even in a world filled with buzzwords and complex strategies, the simplest of ideas can have the most significant impact. It's a reminder that sometimes, all it takes is a bit of creativity and the right partners to make a lasting difference. The story of AARP's SongTheme™ is an inspiration for organizations looking to transform their communities and create meaningful connections.

Ready to boost engagement on your Khoros community?

iTalent Digital is one of Khoros' most established and capable global technology partners. Contact us at to speak with us about your enterprise community needs. You can learn more about our Enterprise Community Practice on our website. You can also download this case study as a pdf.


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