West Virginia University
10 Oct

Public relations seniors Evan Bonnstetter and Devin Sears are more mindful of the tweets they post these days. The two recently participated in a global conversation about using social media to create positive change at the Social Good Summit in New York City. The three-day conference had several notable sponsors including Mashable, the United Nations Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Read the Q&A with Bonnstetter and Sears to learn more.

SOJ: How were you selected for the Social Good Summit?

Bonnstetter: The Summit has a student fellowship program. Rebecca Davis (BSJ, 2011) works for the United Nations Foundation, and she reached out to the J-School. When we heard about the program, we decided to apply.

Sears: We had to write an essay?we were two of 50 students in the United States selected for the program. There were a lot of colleges represented, and it was really neat to put WVU on the map.

Why did you want to attend the Summit?

Bonnstetter: The Social Good Summit is the biggest social media conference in the world. It really showed a different side of social media—outside of promoting a brand. They had topics about everything from world hunger to AIDS to human trafficking to politics. It was a great lesson in how we can use this technology we have for social good.

Sears: I’m very politically inclined, and I’m interested in how social media is impacting this upcoming election. When I heard that there would be speakers from both presidential campaigns, it sparked my interested.

How would you describe the atmosphere at the Summit?

Bonnstetter: The auditorium itself was the size of the Met Theatre downtown [Morgantown], but it was the largest social media conference in the world because people were sharing information. They had live meet-up groups all across the world so people could live stream what we were doing.

Sears: We went there expecting the conference to be all people our age, but there were people of all ages there. The younger generation was teaching people who were older how to use Twitter. It was really cool.

Bonnstetter: I taught a doctor how to use a hashtag! She wanted to communicate better, through Twitter, all of the knowledge that she was learning at the Summit. As an influential person at a hospital, who is learning how to use Twitter, it provides great value for her and for everyone who’s listening.

What did you learn from the experience?

Bonnstetter: We live tweeted everything we heard, so for me it was a lesson in listening, how to pick out information quickly, and how sharing that information can change the world.

Sears: It made me more self-conscious of what I tweet and how I can rephrase my tweets to inform other people. One of the speakers said it’s about having a purpose and a direction with your tweets, and it’s not about staying in your own network of friends but reaching out to new networks. If you are interested in global climate, then reach out to Twitter handles or organizations that are interested in that because it’s a better way to become well connected.

Would you recommend that other SOJ students apply for Summit’s Fellowship Program?

Sears: While we’re getting a great education here at WVU, we have to be able to match that with outside experiences—it’s the best way to be successful. I would definitely encourage students to look into this for next year.

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