What I learned from Twitter following the Sudanese Hug

A week or so ago, the Boston Globe Magazine published an essay I wrote about the “Sudanese Hug,” a greeting I learned while visiting that nation.

There was a great response to the piece and I felt like I’ve been learning on the fly how to navigate social media (especially Twitter) as a freelance writer and personal essayist so I’m writing down some notes to remind myself of stuff I could do next time, and perhaps as a service to others.

First of all, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but I learned there is a large Sudanese diaspora. And many of them speak English, and naturally they are tracking news about Sudan. Only the Globe knows how many people accessed the article (and from where) but through Twitter I was able to see a number of retweets (RTs) from Sudanese, from NGOs with an interest in Sudan, and from journalists in Sudan and East Africa.

While the language difference (predominantly Arabic) would seem to be a barrier to reaching a Sudanese audience, I think the smaller English speaking Sudanese audience has more of an incentive to follow all things “Sudan” on a social network like Twitter. In contrast, I would not expect as many people in an English speaking country with the same population as Sudan (about 35 million) — say Canada — to monitor social networks for references to their home. (I could be wrong; Canadians can be very patriotic.)

This may be obvious, too, but people like good news. While there is an audience of people looking for news on Sudan, it must be refreshing for them to read something complimentary and not about war or tragedy. In fact, the editor who bought my essay has mentioned to me more than once that too often her submission pile is filled with sad stories about death or heartbreak and she appreciates seeing, and being able to publish, a more positive balance.

Following an essay can be difficult. I used bit.ly to shorten the link (http://b.globe.com/1j3uIDy) and then I can see how many click throughs come through “my” link. (I put “my” in quotes because anyone else can use the same link, but bit.ly keeps it on a page for me to reference.)

What I found, too, was that the article was getting tweeted elsewhere, from the Boston Globe, and from various readers. I was able to track this somewhat by copying the URL that the essay lived on and searching for that address on Twitter, results here. (Note that this method finds both the direct URL and my bit.ly shortened version.) I was able to then “favorite” any mentions and engage with those who liked the article.

And now I can spend more time searching on Twitter for links to previous articles…

… I’m back.

That was disappointing. Clearly, if you want your work to surf Twitter, you’ve got to do it yourself. On the bright side, here’s an opportunity to start a new round of tweets with old articles.

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