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:
- Facilitate conversations about childhood cancer with a national audience of consumers, the childhood cancer community, medical experts, policy leaders, advocates and independent sales agents.
- Raise awareness of My Special Aflac Duck, bolstering the number of participating hospitals and ducks delivered.
- Achieve 1% post engagement rate.
- Donate $1.5 million to pediatric cancer research through consumers using #Duckprints.
- Grow page likes 10% (2018) and 8% (2019).
- Strengthen Aflac’s corporate reputation.
- Create meaningful impact on Aflac product sales.
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:
- My Special Aflac Duck, one of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2018 and winner of top tech honors at SXSW’s 2019 Interactive Innovation Awards. Compelling videos, images and news stories featured the duck’s delivery events at select children’s hospitals nationwide.
- Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals®, supporting Children’s Hospitals Week and Dance Marathons and featuring original videos with CMN Ambassadors, including several childhood cancer survivors.
- Atlantic Media’s Children and Cancer Forum, a high-profile event convening medical experts, policy leaders and advocates addressing pediatric cancer. A live-streamed interview featured a child life specialist discussing how My Special Aflac Duck helps kids cope with cancer.
- The Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, highlighting touching stories about medical staff and young patients such as a love story, brave cancer patients raising money to help others and even furry therapy dogs.
- September Childhood Cancer Awareness Month activities, including the iconic Aflac Duck going gold; hosting the NYSE bell-ringing with two young cancer patients; a branded segment on “Good Morning America” featuring Aflac CEO Dan Amos, the robotic duck, and country music stars Chris Young and Chase Bryant.
- Engaging images, including medical professionals’ quotes about My Special Aflac Duck and noting Aflac’s cancer insurance covers dependent children at no additional cost.
- Calls to action to use #Duckprints. For every use, Aflac gives $2 to The Aflac Foundation, Inc. — up to $1.5 million — toward childhood cancer research.
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:
- Achieved average 5% post engagement rate.
- Aflac exceeded 2019 $1.5 million #Duckprints donation goal for the fourth consecutive year.
- Grew page likes +11.6% (2018); on track to meet 2019 goal.
- During September 2018 Childhood Cancer Awareness Month:
- +387.7% engagement, +194% reach, +159% impressions over August 2018.
- +18% engagement over September 2017, despite decreased YOY reach (-36.6%) and impressions (-30.2%).
- “Good Morning America” My Special Aflac Duck segment generated highest-ever post reach – +131% over previous top post (2017).
- My Special Aflac Duck delivery began October 2018, and as of July 31, 2019, over 4,900 ducks given to children facing cancer for free via 227 participating hospitals in 47 states (just 9 months).
- Aflac’s 2019 RI corporate reputation score improved, with social media a significant factor.
- Aflac’s U.S. full-year 2018 sales rose +3.2% and total revenues were up 2.4%. In 2019, total revenues rose +2.2% in Q1 and +1.9% in Q2.
Video for How Aflac Navigated Facebook Changes to Support Kids with Cancer
- Aflac Facebook and social media recognitions include:
- Ragan interview on the Facebook campaign strategy: Ragan.com/how-aflac-overcame-changes-in-facebooks-algorithm
- 2018-19 PR Daily Digital PR and Social Media Award
- 2019 ABA Gold Stevie
- 2019 Hermes Creative Award (Platinum)
- 2019 PR News CSR Award
- 2018 Best in Biz Awards North America (Silver)
- 2018 PR News Platinum Award