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How I Use ThinkUp for a Better Quantified Social Self

Something about social media metrics makes me antsy. How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many friends on Facebook? How many likes did you get for that post? How many times was that clever tweet retweeted? Perhaps these are useful measurements for a brand or business, but for the average person–me for instance–they aren’t particularly meaningful.

Of course, I like the data. It’s the approach that makes me uncomfortable. To better understand my quantified social self, I use a service called ThinkUp. ThinkUp is the brainchild of Gina Trapani and Anil Dash and touts itself as “analytics for humans.” It takes the bland numbers out of social media metrics and provides fun, useful insights that help to tell a story about my social media behavior. I’ve been using ThinkUp ever since it first appeared, and based on my experience so far, the insights ThinkUp provides fall into four categories.

1. Personal insights

A perfect example of a personal insight is one I received one morning back in August, when ThinkUp let me know it was my 6th Twitter birthday:

ThinkUp Twitter Birthday

ThinkUp also looks at how frequently people interact with your tweets and posts, and provides interesting metrics on the ones that do particularly well:

ThinkUp Twitter Favorites

These insights are personal. Unlike some services which compare you to others, this is simply comparing me to myself. In this same way, ThinkUp will provide you with a summary of your week:

ThinkUp Week

2. Fun insights

ThinkUp has a growing collection of fun insights that pop up from time-to-time. I recently encountered this one:

ThinkUp Exclaim

Trust me when I say that seeing that insight made me more sensitive to the frequency with which I use! exclamation! marks! in my tweets. I have also seen insights for how frequently I’ve used the term “LOL” in a tweet or Facebook post.

3. Paying it forward

Social media often seems like a race to the highest number of followers–or likes, or retweets–as possible. The number is the end as opposed to the content. One of my favorite parts of ThinkUp is what I call its “pay-it-forward” insights which take those numbers and puts them to good use. Here is one example:

ThinkUp Thank You

Seeing this insight encourages me to thank people more often, because it’s nice to be nice. Then, too, while I don’t have an audience as large as Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi, I do my best to signal boost things that I find interesting besides my own stuff. ThinkUp acknowledges these kinds of activities as well:

ThinkUp Boost

I like this because it emphasizes that the number of followers you have is not just about how popular you are, but expresses the degree to which you can help boost the signal on other people’s messages.

4. Improving my social media behavior

For me, the most useful insights that ThinkUp provides are those that help me be a better person on social media. Here is one example where ThinkUp finds plenty of room for improvement in my behavior:

ThinkUp Me

While worded in a perfectly friendly manner, the message is clear: I talk about myself quite a bit, as opposed to pointing folks to other interesting people and thinks. Some of this comes from the fact that I write articles from my perspective, but the insight is still telling. And while my behavior hasn’t changed overnight, I use this insight as a benchmark for my behavior, and have been gradually trying to reduce the percentage–with mixed success so far.

Being efficient with tweets and posts is also important. You can reach more people if you know when more people are listening, and ThinkUp helps with that by looking at when your friends and followers are posting, and suggesting those times as ideal for posting and tweeting yourself:

ThinkUp Time

As ThinkUp is providing new insights every day, the times may vary and can be adjusted accordingly. Using a tool like Buffer, I can schedule my most important tweets and posts during the suggested time window.

Finally, ThinkUp will occasionally remind me how long it has been since I last updated my profile on Facebook or Twitter. Things change fast on the Internet, and I often forget to update my profile when something new comes along. Now, ThinkUp helps remind me of this:

ThinkUp Profile

ThinkUp currently provides insights for Twitter and Facebook. It is an evolving service with new insights being introduced all the time. You can elect to receive a daily email message summarizing your insights for the previous day. I like this feature. I can review the insights in the morning, and immediately make adjustment that day based on what I find. If I’m talking about myself too much again, I’ll dedicate the day to focus on others.

It is also worth noting ThinkUp’s data philosophy. As they say upfront on their home page, they don’t have ads and they don’t sell your data. They have a clear, simple, and refreshing values page that goes into more detail into the overall philosophy behind the service.

I was an early-bird user of ThinkUp. The service costs $60/year (that’s $5 month, and remember, no ads!), but a 14-day free trial is available for folks who want to see what the service is like. ThinkUp recently introduced an option for $5/month, for those who want to go month-to-month. Finally, ThinkUp is also available on GitHub for those who want to run the service on their own, or contribute to its open source development.

Since I started using ThinkUp, it has become my primary tool for gauging my social media behavior, benchmarking that behavior, and using the insights to improve my behavior. I find the unique insights an invaluable way to more closely examine my quantified social self.

One Way ThinkUp Has Already Started to Change My Behavior

I have been using ThinkUp since it was released to its early supporters back in January and I really like it. Unlike some tools which try to make your online activity into a popularity contest, ThinkUp provides insights that are fun and useful. As they say on their home page, “ThinkUp makes you feel good about the time you spend online.”

I’ll give you an example of one way that ThinkUp’s insights have already started to change my behavior. One of the insights I see from time-to-time looks like this:

But enough about me

I think my reaction the first time I saw this was “ouch!” But I gave it a lot of thought. I considered that the message here was that I should do a better job of sharing all kinds of things I find interesting on the Internet, not just stuff that relates to me. Slowly, I’ve started changing my behavior. The result, so far, has been that while I still see the “But enough about me” insights, they tend to look more like the one above. Note that phrase that I highlighted. Even though I doubt this will ever be down to zero–after all, I use social media to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, as well as spread the word about my posts–I think I’m doing a better job at making my tweets less self-centered1.

And I have ThinkUp to thank for this.

It seems to me, this is and example of the very type of change that ThinkUp was attempting  to bring about with their insights: allowing users to take useful information (and hints!) from the insights and use them to improve the quality of their online social presence.

  1. Yes, I recognize that the tweet that goes out about this post will contain the word “my” in it, but I think my intention is clear.