Canadian Journal of Nursing Informatics


This article was written on 21 Sep 2018, and is filled under Volume 13 2018, Volume 13 No 3/4.

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Using social media to network, converse, and build community within graduate nursing education

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by Suzanne Fredericks RN, PhD (1)
Professor, Graduate Program Director

Jacky Au Duong (2)

Paula Lamaj BScN (student) (1)

  1. Daphne Cockwell, School of Nursing, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario
  2. Centre for Communicating Knowledge, School of Professional Communication; Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario


Social media in graduate educationThe use of social media as a public relations, marketing and brand building tool is a relatively new phenomenon within nursing practice; and has quickly resulted in enhanced patient interactions outside of the clinical setting, as well as a decrease in complications, hospital readmission rates, and mortality. However, within the realm of academia, the use of social media as a marketing tool for educational programing, specifically graduate nursing education, does not appear to be as proficiently used. In this short communication paper, the description of an existing nursing graduate program is presented, along with a discussion for the design, implementation and evaluation, of a multi-component social media tool. The potential effects of this social tool on the various challenges experienced within nursing education are discussed in relation to enhancing the program’s visibility, recruitment, and engagement.

Keywords: social media, marketing strategies, higher education, visibility, recruitment, engagement


Social media is the collection of online communication through which users interact and share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (Kapoor, Jayasimha & Sadh, 2013; Veletsianos, Kimmons, Shaw, Pasquini & Woodward, 2017). It can also be used as a public relations, marketing and brand building tool. In this context, the use of social media has led to organizations, programs, and individuals having a strong online presence; the creation and solidification of interactions with consumers; as well as the expansion of business relationships and networks of new followers and potential customers (Rajagopal, 2013; Burton and Soboleva, 2011; Kapoor et al., 2013). Over the last decade, the importance of using social media to connect with consumers, through the facilitation of conversations among user segments has grown exponentially (Rutter, Roper & Lettice, 2016).

Within healthcare, specifically the nursing profession, the integration of social media into patients’ plan of care is a relatively new phenomenon that has resulted in the continuous delivery of patient education interventions; as well as supportive, counselling, and cognitive based treatments to patients outside of the clinical setting (Ferguson, 2013). The effects of integrating social media into patients’ plan of care have been positive, as a significant reduction in rates of post-operative complications, hospital readmission, and mortality have been reported (Hawn, 2009). However, within the realm of nursing education, specifically graduate nursing, the use of social media as a marketing tool for educational programing, does not appear to be as proficiently used.

Graduate education consists of advanced academic degrees beyond undergraduate training (Posselt & Grodsky, 2017). The delivery of graduate programming is characterized by the constant balancing of various pressures that include maintaining admission numbers, acquiring program and research grant funds, sustaining active alumni and student engagement networks, creating community partnerships, and enhancing the reputation of the institution (Posselt & Grodsky, 2017). These pressures are exacerbated and are felt more intensely the less established a program is or the less donor and/or endowed sponsorship it receives. Currently, the evaluation of social media in promoting graduation nursing education programs do not appear to have been extensively examined. This has resulted in sub-par student engagement, poor alumni retention, and a lower quality of branding (Belanger, Bali & Longden, 2014). In this short communication paper, the description of an existing nursing graduate program is presented, along with a discussion for the design, implementation and evaluation, of a multi-component social media tool.


The Master of Nursing (MN) program at Ryerson University is uniquely situated in a large urban centre (Toronto, Canada), which is among the most culturally diverse metropolises in the world. The program is seen as having a vital role in helping to address the multitude of health and illness challenges that exists across diverse populations, while providing the knowledge and skills to meet the growing and changing health care needs for future health services. The program, similar to the university in which it is situated, has a culturally diverse student body which is seen as a strength as it represents the diversified population that requires health care services within the community and broadly across other jurisdictions outside of the city and province. Students learn to fully engage and understand the diverse health care needs of individuals, families and populations through their experiences within the program. Courses and learning experiences are designed to develop the leadership and educational expertise of the students, while advancing knowledge and practice.

However, similar to all graduate programs, issues persist in ensuring student enrolment numbers are maintained, ongoing acquisition of research and program grants, active engagement of alumni and current students, and the continued fostering of community partnerships. A variety of strategies have been used to address each of these issues that include a travelling road show, in which a total of 18 healthcare institutions were visited over a period of eight weeks. This activity proved to be time consuming, financially costly, and physically exhausting. In addition to the travelling road show, a number of professional development and promotional workshops were designed and delivered to community partners, students, and alumni. The workshops varied in focus and reflected the needs of students, alumni, and community partners. In total, 21 workshops were delivered during a 16-month period. These workshops, similar to the travelling road show, proved to be costly and time consuming to design and deliver.

An alternative to the present activities is the use of social media to enhance student recruitment, increase the visibility of the Master of Nursing program, support student and alumni engagement, and secure donor and research funding. This medium provides a platform for individuals and groups to interact, while building relationships online that can reach millions nationally and internationally.


Presently, there appears to be minimal studies that have examined the use of social media within graduate education on student engagement. Alotaibi et al. (2016) led a descriptive, non-experimental study to identify possible factors for engagement and research among social media users in a post-graduate neurosurgical academic program. Study findings suggested social media posts that occurred on weekdays during work hours, and which included photos or videos resulted in significantly higher student engagement and visibility. As well, posts that mentioned faculty with greater than 90 or more publications or who held full professor status had increased values in impressions and student engagement. Furthermore, Liu (2010) examined the relationship between knowledge and trends in using social media tools. Study findings suggested social media was imperative in enhancing student and faculty interactions and “supported a reflective approach to learning” (p. 109), while “offering an opportunity to make teaching more practical and application-oriented” (p. 109). The benefits of using social media as identified by Liu (2010) included: increased promotion of student and faculty led academic and social events; support of virtual office hours; collaborative learning; cognitive engagement; acquisition of funding; and increased attendance at events.

In spite of these benefits, social media is still not fully actualized within the realm of academia. Current literature cites infrequent activity, low followership/presence, and poor interactivity within social media posts as indicators of decreased social media adaption within higher education institutions (Rutter, Roper, & Lettice, 2016). Additional key challenges identified with using social media included: students rarely returning to large online groups; privacy policies that limit interactions within social media accounts (i.e. the limited number of characters associated with Twitter); and specific social media venues not being recognized as a platform for dissemination of information related to career advancement and/or professional development (Belanger et al,, 2014).

The distinctive voice that is afforded through various channels that include Facebook and Twitter can provide academic graduate programs with the opportunity to offer an original perspective on current issues and trends. In addition, these mediums can assist the program in finding an appropriate audience through its far reach and has the potential to alter and/or impact patterns of engagement through influential social media posts and marketing campaigns (Rutter et al., 2016). Direct messaging (i.e. sending a private message directly to a user), tagging (i.e. identify and connect with another member), replying to a single user, or following another user, increases visibility resulting in enhanced e-traffic on a webpage and/or social media site. Using social media allows members to engage in conversations with potential applicants, students, and donors, as well as alumni and community partners. The virtual communities that are formed on social media provide a forum for users to identify their needs online, while engaging in real-time dialogue with members of the communities. This online connection enables individuals and organizations to stay in touch, instilling a sense of loyalty.

In addition to the creation of virtual communities, social marketing is another key attribute of using social media. It encompasses using social media as a communication tool to advertise, learn from and target an intended audience. Social marketing has been identified as a financially viable option to traditional paper -marketing strategies. Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram are common examples of social media marketing tools that have been commonly used to promote industry-based products (Rutter et al., 2016).

In order to effectively use social media as a marketing tool, a social media strategy is needed to determine the marketing goals, align social media marketing strategies with each goal, determine when and how often to deliver various social media marketing strategies, and to identify and determine processes for analyzing metrics. The target audience, medium for social media marketing campaign, and messaging are usually identified during the creation of the specific social media strategy.


This section outlines a social media marketing strategy to address the case in point, as identified above. The goals of the intended social media marketing campaign for the Master of Nursing Program include:

  1. enhanced visibility (i.e. Master of Nursing’s online presence), as measured through Google Analytics;
  2. increased recruitment activities by measuring success of social media promotion through in-person event feedback; and
  3. improved communication, interaction and engagement as measured via the number of views, likes, shares, comments, retweets, screenshots, and following of a number of posts.

It was anticipated that increased recognition of the Master of Nursing’s program would lead to enhanced program enrolment, an increase in the number of research and program grants, and an intensification of student and alumni engagement, as well as community partnerships. In addition, the social media content was planned and itemized in such a way to ensure it was consistent with other areas of online marketing. The content was posted regularly, offering information pertaining to the MN Program, students, alumni, and faculty. Images, video, infographics and how-to-guides were included in the posts to enhance interest and encourage increased traffic.

To “encourage social interaction with various user groups” (Belanger et al., 2014), the social media sites focused on meaningful content and high-quality posts that were relevant to the MN program that addressed program events; student, alumni, and faculty achievements; and community partner recognition. The specific social media sites selected catered to the needs of the program. Approximately, 90% of the MN program consists of women in their mid to late 30’s, who live in urban centres and are currently employed. The most popular social media sites among this particular demographic are Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (Veletsianos et al., 2017). Thus, these three social media platforms were used to disseminate information. Following the implementation of this social media marketing campaign, it was anticipated the MN program would have an increased online presence, the number of individuals attending MN related events would rise, and there would be enhanced engagement with the MN program and its students, alumni, and community partners. Presently, this social media multicomponent tool is under investigation.

In conclusion, a description of an existing graduate nursing program was presented, along with the challenges related to maintaining admission numbers, acquiring program and research grant funds, sustaining active alumni and student engagement networks, creating community partnerships, and enhancing the reputation of the institution. A brief discussion of the use of a multi-component social media marketing strategy was presented with the goal of enhancing the program’s visibility, recruitment, and engagement.

Brief Biographical Statement

Dr. Suzanne Fredericks is a Professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University. She is currently the Graduate Program Director for the School of Nursing.

Mr. Jacky Au Duong is the Manager for the Centre for Communicating Knowledge located within the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

Ms. Paula Lamaj is a second year undergraduate Nursing Student at Ryerson University and is currently working with Dr. Fredericks as her Research Assistant.


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