The surprising results of my highly unscientific social media survey (I’m honest, hard-working and jerky) and thoughts on effectively analyzing an author’s brand.

Last week I received an email from a frequent reader of my blog and a follower on Twitter who had just finished reading my new book (she lives overseas where it is already available). In the course of commenting on my book, she referred to me as a “gentle and kind” person, citing the things I write on Twitter and on my blog as support for this assessment.

I may be many things, but I cannot remember the last time anyone referred to me as gentle or even kind, and I doubt if anyone who knows me well would ever use these two words to describe me.

It led me to wonder how my online personality compares to my actual personality. Are there significant differences between the two? Is my online persona inauthentic or inaccurate, and if so, why would this be the case?

With these thoughts in mind, I decided to conduct a wholly unscientific survey yesterday in which I asked my Twitter followers, Facebook friends and Facebook fans to offer three words that would describe me.

Obviously there are serious flaws in this kind of survey. First and foremost, I had no way of protecting the anonymity of the people who responded, so I assumed that the responses would automatically skew positive. I was correct. Though there were a number of negative responses, the great majority were positive.

Then again, if you follow me on Twitter or are a friend or fan on Facebook, you are probably, though not necessarily, predisposed to positive comments anyway. If you didn’t like me to at least some degree, you probably wouldn’t subject yourself to my thoughts and ideas on a daily basis.

In retrospect, what I should have done is asked people for one positive word, one negative word and one word of their choosing. And ideally, I should have used a service like Survey Monkey to protect the anonymity of my respondents.

Hindsight is 20/20.

My sample size was also considerably smaller than I had hoped. With a pool of well over 1,000 people from which to illicit responses, only 31 people responded, yielding a pool of only 93 descriptive words to analyze.

What I should have done was offer free books to one or more randomly-selected responders. Free stuff will always get people to participate, especially when all they need to do is type three words into Twitter or an email client and click send.

On a positive note, I specifically asked people who have never met me in real life to respond, and all but 6% of my respondents were people who I have never actually met before.

I will learn from these mistakes and repeat my survey in six months, but for now, the data that I received has been fascinating, if somewhat limited.  

I have taken the 93 descriptive words offered by responders and attempted to categorize them. I initially came up with 9 categories, but my wife has argued for a tenth, which I will discuss later.

Of the 9 categories, I dropped “Occupational” from the table below because it contained words like teacher, author and parent. I did not think that these descriptors spoke to my persona. 

As a result, here are my 8 initial categories, comprising 64 of the 93 responses. The Occupational category contains 6 words, bringing the total to 71 of the 93 words categorized (76%). The words appear in the columns in the order in which they were received.

Disagreeable Truthiness Work ethic Humor Creativity Different Intelligent Confident
provocative frank  determined funny imaginative unusual perceptive self-righteous
score-keeper frank responsible funny creative quirky smart  independent
curmudgeonly honest passionate hilarious creative unconventional witty strong-minded 
defiant honest prolific funny creative random logical confident
ornery honest productive funny creative   intelligent unafraid
snarky blunt intense funny     insightful confident
sarcastic real energetic       astute boastful
  genuine driven       clever  
  honest hardworking        insightful  
  blunt hardworking        insightful  
  honest         intellectual  
  blunt         clever  

The words “honest” and “funny” appear most frequently in the survey (5 times each), followed by “blunt” and “creative” (4 times each).

I should also note that the “score-keeper” response is indicative of my love for the phrase “I told you so”, taking it so far as to maintain an “I told you so” Google calendar.

The rest of the categorized descriptors were relatively self-explanatory. 

As I said, my wife has argued for a tenth category, with she labeled “Empathetic” but I am not sure if the words that she proposed for inclusion in this category are close enough in meaning to be grouped together.

I also have little faith in my ability to be empathetic, which may contribute to my hesitancy to include this category in my table.

If I were to include it, it would look like this:


In addition to the issues already stated regarding this category, I also know that 5 of the 11 descriptors came from just two people, and one of those knows me (albeit vaguely) in real life. Extract the responses of those two people from the sample and it begins to look much less like a significant or cohesive category.

This leaves only 11 responses uncategorized.

The word “talented” appeared twice in the data, but I was unsure of what talent these responses were referencing, so I was hesitant to categorize them.

Two others (eloquent, articulate) spoke to my writing and/or speaking ability.

The last 7 words, relatively singular in their nature, appear below:


A couple of these struck me as quite insightful on part of the responders, including “sentimental” and “grateful.” I think I possess both of these qualities in abundance but tend not to broadcast them very often.

I was also unsure what the descriptor “strong” was meant to reference.

So what have a learned from this?

First and foremost, I’ve learned that I could have conducted this survey much more effectively and will do so at some point in the future.

Second, I think I’ve learned that my online and offline personas are quite similar.

Yes, I am honest, quite often to a fault.

Yes, I am hard working. Some might say that I am always working.

Yes, I suppose I am fairly intelligent as well, though I have also lived a life full of shockingly stupid decisions.

Yes, at times I can be funny and creative, though there are many times when I am decidedly unfunny and uncreative.  I am just discerning enough to delete those unfunny, uncreative blog posts and tweets before the rest of the world can see them.

And yes, I can most certainly be a curmudgeonly, defiant, overconfident, boastful, ornery, snarky, sarcastic, unconventional provocateur. Perhaps even more so than this survey indicated.

And yes, perhaps I am occasionally, slightly, marginally more empathetic than I would like to think I am.


It’s also occurred to me that in terms of my career as an author, this survey, in many ways, is reflective of my brand. As a person who writes a blog every day, tweets several times a day, and routinely posts to Facebook (in addition to my fiction), I am in the business of creating a brand for myself, and that brand will go a long way in attracting readers and establishing a platform for myself.

But knowing how my readers perceive that brand is difficult to measure. A survey like this, especially if done more scientifically, could be quite beneficial to anyone who is producing content on a regular basis and looking to build an audience. While my goal is to be as authentic and honest as possible with my readers, a survey like this may uncover certain aspects of my persona that are being over-emphasized based upon the nature of blogging and social media.

I may also learn that there are aspects of my character that I am failing to project entirely, and these aspects may be beneficial to share with my audience.

Thankfully, it would appear, based upon this highly flawed survey, that the person I am and the image I project via my online content are one and the same. There is nothing I despise more than inauthenticity.

If nothing else, my respondents seems to have clearly gleaned this aspect of my character.