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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Rise of Social Media and Adoption by Medical Students

The rise of social media is changing marketing strategy. United Airlines is the most recent example of the dangers of ignoring the role of social media. They paid dearly regarding market value until they quelled a social media-based firestorm trashing its brand and (potentially) altering purchase decisions.1

In its early days of social media, evidence of the marketing value was unclear. Early proponents claimed vast potential to reach the customer, but many unknowns clouded its potential, especially concerns regarding impact, and the challenge of measuring impact. Such concerns are in the past. With an audience of 180 million (56% of the population) in the US in 2015, and expected growth to over 200 million (>60%) in 2020.2 The digital marketer cannot ignore the potential value of engaging the target market using social media.

The reach across a broad demographic is large, about 50% of social media users are older than 35 years old. Use of social media is highest for users 18-24 years old (>90%) and still high for users <17 years old (84%).2 Activity increasingly occurs using a smartphone. Of the 180 million users, 88% use a smartphone. Smartphone based use is expected to continue to grow to the detriment of desktop viewing2 thus favoring smaller screens and location specific content. To obtain the attention of the potential consumer, the digital marketer must investigate social media and assume users access social media using their smartphone.

Earlier concerns acknowledged the reach of social media however some doubted if social marketing would succeed commercially and justify the high valuations. It is possible that a herd effect may have driven initial spending on social media and spending was not necessarily reflective of actual value. But, metrics to measure marketing goal achievement and ROI of social media involvement have evolved, and revenue for social media has shown a steady increase of dollars spent. Facebook accounts for most revenue; it alone has seen revenue from $12B in 2014 to $27B in 2016. By comparison, in 2016 Linked received $3B and Twitter $2.5B.3

Usage is another metric to assess social media platforms and their impact. In the US in 2016 monthly users were as follows: Facebook (149M), Instagram [owned by Facebook] (75M), Snapchat and Pinterest (51M) and Twitter (47M). YouTube had 116M visitors; however, it should be considered more of a passive video delivery medium rather than a pure social network since although there is a discussion component most activity is not social in nature. All the others fall far behind.4

Impact regarding social media is also a function of the number of users times average time spent. From that perspective, Facebook excels and dwarfs its competition with 50 minutes per user per day in June of 2016.5

Facebook excels at both time spent per user and number of users; thus their dominance is even greater than one might predict based on the number of users6(p10). A social networking strategy that ignores social media other than Facebook is indeed justifiable; one that ignores Facebook is not.

Social Media and Medical Students

Medical student use of social media is quite high, measured at over 90% in 20117 and has almost certainly grown since then. Initial concerns of medical educators focused on the dangers associated with a medical student using social media to divulge patient information.8 The expressed fear was that usage of social media, such as Facebook, would evidence weakened professionalism9. A demonstration of lack of harm caused by social media involvement calmed such doubts; however, evidence at that point concluded that no educational benefits existed.10 Instead, educators highlighted the need to educate students about the proper use of social media regarding patient care11; In general, the attitude toward the value of social media moved slowly toward cautious optimism.12 Despite the negative association of social media by some faculty, enthusiasm and interest in social media by medical students remained high.13

More recently there is a desire to remove the negative association of social media with unprofessional behavior and embrace its ability to enhance communication.14 Social media improves communication capability and successfully enhanced research communication and interest.8 Additional articles outline the value of Facebook for anatomy education16 and stress management.17 Despite the earlier rejection of social media, the medical training establishment appears to be embracing its potential value.

Medical education does not intend to get in the way of medical students using social media and may, in fact, support it. Engaging medical students via social media is a viable strategy. The community building potential and peer support offered by social media counter the challenge and stress of medical school. The social media community also enhances communication between students and medical experts. Given high percentage penetration of social media use, educators and those higher up in the academic hierarchy likely use it as well.


  1. Police drag a man from a United Airlines plane. The Economist.

  2. eMarketer. US Social StatPack: Usage and Ad Spending. May 2016.

  3. Social media: revenue of selected companies 2016 | Statistic. Statista.

  4. The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report. ComScore Inc.

  5. Stewart James B. Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day. It Wants More.. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/06/business/facebook-bends-the-rules-of-audience-engagement-to-its-advantage.html. Published May 5, 2016. Accessed April 13, 2017.

  6. Activate Tech and Media Outlook 2017.Technology at October 25, 2016.

  7. Bosslet Gabriel T, Torke Alexia M, Hickman Susan E, Terry Colin L, Helft Paul R. The Patient–Doctor Relationship and Online Social Networks: Results of a National Survey. J Gen Intern Med. October 1, 2011;26(10):1168-1174. doi:10.1007/s11606-011-1761-2.

  8. Foley Niamh M, Maher Bridget M, Corrigan Mark A. Social Media and Tomorrow’s Medical Students--How Do They Fit?. J Surg Educ. June 2014;71(3):385-390. doi:10.1016/j.jsurg.2013.10.008.

  9. Osman Ahmed, Wardle Andrew, Caesar Richard. Online Professionalism and Facebook--Falling through the Generation Gap. Med Teach. 2012;34(8):e549-556. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2012.668624.

  10. Cartledge Peter, Miller Michael, Phillips Bob. The Use of Social-Networking Sites in Medical Education. Med Teach. October 2013;35(10):847-857. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2013.804909.

  11. Pander Tanja, Pinilla Severin, Dimitriadis Konstantinos, Fischer Martin R. The Use of Facebook in Medical Education--a Literature Review. GMS Z Med Ausbild. 2014;31(3):Doc33. doi:10.3205/zma000925.

  12. Popoiu Marius Calin, Grosseck Gabriela, Holotescu Carmen. What do We Know about the Use of Social Media in Medical Education?. Procedia - Soc Behav Sci. January 1, 2012;46:2262-2266. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.05.466.

  13. El Bialy Safaa, Jalali Alireza. Go Where the Students Are: A Comparison of the Use of Social Networking Sites Between Medical Students and Medical Educators. JMIR Med Educ. September 8, 2015;1(2). doi:10.2196/mededu.4908.

  14. Hennessy CM. Lifting the Negative Cloud of Social Media Use Within Medical Education. PubMed J. February 2017.

  15. Al-Khateeb Abdulrahman A, Abdurabu Hanan Y. Using Social Media to Facilitate Medical Students’ Interest in Research. Med Educ Online. 2014;19:25860.

  16. Exploring the Use of a Facebook Page in Anatomy Education. PubMed J.

  17. Facebook Stress Management Group for Year 1 Medical Students. PubMed J.

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