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UNCP student uses social media project to do social good

December 18, 2013

UNC Pembroke student Ernest Bethel is making a statement in his final year, and it’s being heard across North Carolina.

During the fall semester, he started a philanthropic project in partnership with UNCP’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Using a social media program called “dollar-per-follower,” he raised a tidy sum through Twitter for the Pretty in Pink Foundation to help a local breast cancer victim.

Ernest Bethel, center, with TV 14 News reporter Amanda Weber and Kyle Alcala who provided technical assistance to the project.

Bethel’s mission was twofold. He wanted to create a good news story that would draw attention to breast cancer and to a community, which has been battered by bad news recently.

“My family has a history of breast cancer,” he said. “After the article about Lumberton being the poorest city in the nation, we needed something positive,” he said of the city where he successfully worked three jobs to pay is tuition.

Second, Bethel wanted to prove an even larger philosophical point - that rich things can come from poor places. “Just because you are not rich, doesn’t mean you can’t give,” he said.

From Durham, Bethel took one class last summer and worked three jobs, literally 24/7. Because his jobs were in Lumberton, he felt like he needed to give back to that community. The dollar-per-follower contributions to his Twitter campaign came from Bethel himself from the money he made last summer.

“On Facebook, you have friends and on Twitter you have followers,” he said. “I use Facebook, so I had to learn how to get followers on Twitter who would hear my good news message.”

With the help of his friend and fellow students, Kyle Alcala, Bethel built a following of 700 and contributed $700 to the Pretty in Pink Foundation. The foundation  will assist an 82-year-old cancer victim, who we are only allowed to identify here as “Helen.”

“I understand that her cancer has returned,” Bethel said. “My family has been affected by it on my mother’s side. My aunt died about two years ago. We had Thanksgiving are her place and everyone got to speak to her before she died two weeks later.”

With another Thanksgiving coming, Bethel completed his successful, two-week Twitter blitz. A meeting with Helen is planned for early December.

But the “story” was only beginning. Good news for a mass communication major must be shared as widely as possible. So, with the Twitter universe still buzzing, he set his sights on the media.

“I used what I learned in Jason Hutchens’ public relations class to write a press release,” Bethel said. “Because of his class I learned how to write a press release that I sent to The Robesonian, TV 14 News and several other places.”

Although Bethel said the press release was the most difficult part of the project, it worked. On The Robesonian’s front page on Thursday, November 14, his story appeared under the headline “UNCP student enlists Twitter in battle against breast cancer.” A story in UNCP’s student newspaper, The Pine Needle, appeared on November 21 and a news feature on TV 14 News aired on November 22.

As an exercise in student learning, Bethel’s project is remarkable. It started with an idea to do a good deed using social media (from the book “Social Medial for Social Good”). He created partnerships with a UNCP office and Director Robert Canida and a national breast cancer foundation.

The promotional plan also required a face-to-face with UNCP’s Office of University Communications and Marketing. As this news release can attest, that part of the plan also worked to perfection.

Ernest Bethel may be reached at 919.599.8526 or by email ewb001@bravemail.uncp.edu.