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Special Project

Special Project
From the 4th Annual Shorty Social Good Awards

How Aflac Navigated Facebook Changes to Support Kids with Cancer

Finalist in Facebook


Nearly 16,000 American children receive a cancer diagnosis annually. Average treatments last 1,000+ days, with kids stuck in chemotherapy chairs for hours daily, multiple days each week. Aflac, a 24-year corporate ally of the childhood cancer community, sees the disease’s impact and has given $136+ million to the cause.

That is why Aflac partnered with research and development workshop Sproutel to create My Special Aflac Duck® — a “smart” comforting companion for children facing cancer. Aflac aimed to distribute its robot to child cancer patients ages 3+ in the U.S. for free via participating hospitals, using Facebook as a primary communications channel.

In 2018, however, Mark Zuckerberg announced algorithm changes prioritizing community-centric content. Aflac saw decreased reach immediately — but they were not alone. So did the top 20,000 Facebook brands, which all suffered decreased engagement exceeding 50%, according to Buzzsumo and Buffer.

Determined to raise awareness of this cause and get its robotic duck to children facing cancer, Aflac worked through Facebook’s changes to:

Strategy and Execution

Aflac found that its longstanding devotion to helping children with cancer live long, healthy lives is not only the right thing to do — it can be good for business. According to its 2019 CSR Survey, 49% of Americans say it is important for companies to make the world a better place — and 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to doing so.

So, Aflac looked to Reputation Institute (RI) to see where its reputation stood and how it could amplify its standing in the childhood cancer community. Considered the gold standard in corporate reputation measurement, RI identified a primary reputation-driving dimension — Citizenship — that became a chief content theme.

Aflac researched the effects of Facebook’s algorithm changes for business pages, including decreased organic reach — from 50% to as low as 2.5% on average — video watch time and referral traffic, especially for pages already lacking engagement. Research, including meeting with a Facebook Marketing Consultant, showed that finding favor with the algorithm included using Facebook-native tools, encouraging engagement and utilizing paid advertising. Engagement became a prime indicator of success, more than reach or impressions, with experts considering 1% a good engagement rate (calculated by dividing engagement by reach).

Social media engagement is a digital conversation, and like any conversation, Aflac looked for ways to demonstrate authenticity and transparency by considering what appeals to the childhood cancer community over corporate topics. At the intersection of interests, posts spotlighted the childhood cancer community and company initiatives:

Aflac amplified content through 3BL Media to reach top-tier CSR professionals and organizations.


Using an informed strategy, Aflac successfully continued leaving its #Duckprints as a corporate ally for the childhood cancer community, despite Facebook changes:


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