Comedian Ricky Gervais got mixed reviews for his hosting of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony in Hollywood last night. Apart from disappearing from the stage for an hour, he made some people laugh, but others were cross with his near-the-knuckle remarks. Some thought he was “genius”, others were clearly offended. Perhaps he is a “Marmite” person – you either love him or hate him. Of course we have no real way of knowing if the character we see on stage is the real Ricky Gervais. Often the public persona of people we see on TV is a performance – only true friends and family know the real individual.
But when the individual is not using a scripted performance there is a chance you will see the real person – even though they think they are presenting their public persona. The real person is revealed in the words they repeatedly use. Certain words and phrases are used more often by particular personality types. For example, people with a high degree of neuroticism tend to use negative words, in particular “terrible” and “worse”, with a higher frequency than other personality types. In personality terms, neurotics tend to be depressed, self-conscious, anxious and feel vulnerable; perhaps the characteristics of some genius comedians.
If you listen carefully to anyone on stage who is unscripted you will detect words used regularly – and it is these words which give away their true personality type. Some people doubtless believe they identified the real Ricky Gervais last night – but only he knows the truth of course. Unless, that is, you read his blog. New research shows that people reveal their true self when blogging or writing online, such as in Tweets or on Facebook. This confirms an earlier study which demonstrated that people use certain words and phrases online in repeated ways.
People often think that Facebook profiles, Tweets or blog posts are easy ways to present a “persona” – but the study from the University of Colorado shows that people present their true selves online – even if they didn’t intend to do so. That means if you want to know the real Ricky Gervais, read his blog, but look at the frequency and kinds of words he uses – that will tell you more about the real Ricky than any guesswork from what he does on stage.
For your website this is important to realise. The research shows that no matter how hard you try, the chances you can present a different “you” to the real person inside are pretty slim. In other words, your readers already know the real you from what you write online. You may think you present an online persona showing great customer focus or someone who is concerned with giving value for money. But your blog postings, or your Tweets, will actually give the game away. In other words, your blog presents the authentic you, even if you try to present something else.
Online there is no place to hide it seems – rather like being the controversial presenter of a major American live TV show.