The Shorty Awards honor the best of social media and digital. View this season's finalists!

Special Project

Special Project
From the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards

Smile Train Stories

Winner in Micro-site or Blog


When we started rethinking our website’s Smile Train Stories section a few years ago, the challenges were clear: 1) a 2020 US brand health survey we commissioned found that the vast majority of Americans didn't really know what clefts were, and, even among those who did, fewer than 10% knew that they caused severe issues with eating, breathing, speaking, hearing, and so much else, in addition to their cosmetic impact; and 2) Smile Train, the world’s largest sustainable cleft charity, is still confused with medical-mission-trip-based cleft organizations. 

We therefore knew we needed to increase readership, educate our audiences about clefts, and highlight the unique effectiveness of our model, all while honoring our foundational commitment to ethical creative content. 

Strategy and Execution

To increase readership, we onboarded the content analytics firm Knotch to analyze our existing content and make recommendations on how to further optimize it. Part of their work involved appending a short survey to the bottom of every new and existing Smile Train story so readers could express how useful they found it and why. 

In January 2022, we also entered a yearlong content partnership with the positive news site InspireMore. As their first-ever Cause of the Year, they shared some of our stories on their website and social pages and produced a few original content pieces for us. 

Though helping disadvantaged children with clefts is the heart of our work, our impact extends far beyond that to include families, communities, hospitals, donors, and even cleft-affected families in the US. To more effectively educate about clefts and our model, we decided we needed to regularly feature stories and videos highlighting our impact among each of these distinct groups and their subgroups and find natural ways for all of them to allude to what makes Smile Train unique. 

As the pandemic eased and we were able to once again travel the world to collect stories, 2022 offered an ideal opportunity to gather new and more varied content. In countries from Colombia to Togo to Indonesia to the Philippines, we met with children, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, surgeons, nurses, ENTs, dentists, social workers, and so many others touched by our work. We found that we usually didn’t even have to ask them about the importance of comprehensive care or our model; people rushed to tell us how much it meant to them. 

In line with our value of giving a voice to the voiceless, we took these stories and, as often as the material allowed, published them as first-person accounts on Smile Train Stories, always accompanied by pictures that upheld the dignity of our patients, especially photos of our patients pre-surgery. 

We took a similar approach to our US stories. Building a strong, proud US cleft community is a key component of our five-year strategic plan, and Smile Train Stories has become a place where cleft-affected American families and our US-based supporters showcase their strength, courage, and generosity in their own words, as much as possible. 

This wide variety of genres and perspectives naturally generated many parameters for content evaluation and optimization—including article length, headline length, first- versus third-person perspective, video versus text, number and style of images featured, and many others—that we regularly reviewed with Knotch and transformed into concrete action plans. 


The results were clear: We succeeded in increasing readership and positive sentiment for our work through our Smile Train Stories section. 

In 2022, we amassed over 122,000 pageviews, a 500%+ increase from 2021. Our average time on page increased by nearly 70% and our bounce rate decreased by more than 16%, meaning people were staying on our pages longer, and reading a lot more. We gained over 86,000 new users this year, compared to more than 10,000 in 2021. 

We were excited that the user data from Knotch showed that 72% of readers had a positive sentiment towards our stories (23% positive and 49% extremely positive), and their scroll depth surpassed 50%. Our most popular story of the year accumulated 35,000 views. 

These learnings indicate that our overall content strategy is on the right track and connecting the right people with our work. By staying flexible and keeping our relationships with our vendors, patients, partners, supporters, and cleft community strong, we believe we can build off these successes to help more children around the world and reach more people than ever before with the message that clefts matter and our model has proven itself the most effective and most sustainable way to treat them. 


Video for Smile Train Stories

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Smile Train


Entry Credits