Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Multiple Brands of the 'Networked' Self

I have a LinkedIn profile. I have a Facebook profile. I have a Twitter profile. I have a Google Plus profile. I have an e-mail address.

It's hard to manage all those Corey Allan Smiths running around out there in cyberspace. Creating and maintaining profiles on social or professional networks is a time consuming process, especially when you have to think about your audience, which can vary from profile to profile.

This is where our course discussion on network theory comes heavily into play. Why do we create multiple profiles of ourselves online as opposed to just one? As Manuel Castells iterated, increasingly our social livelihoods are dependent upon the connections we forge with others through networks, or an interconnected system of nodes having some form of relationship. Many of us belong to layer upon layer of networks like family, friends, work colleagues, those within our career field, age range, hobbies and interests or other defining social characteristics.

So, we need profiles to fit each one of these trajectories, right?

LinkedIn is purely about self-branding and is used as a virtual resume where any potential employer can view your career or educational background. Hence the reason career networking is so popular for this website. The whole point of LinkedIn is to connect with your colleagues so you can see who else is in your network that may be of use to you. We admire those with hundreds of LinkedIn connections because they appear to have more influence, depending upon their field. I know that I have a few people I am connected to on LinkedIn that have led me to other organizations and work contacts that I never knew would have had any relation to each other.

Facebook has less of a push to connect with others, but chooses to focus on interacting with others using their interface. Facebook is more socially acceptable, as it enables the user to integrate with photos, video, text, games and other interactive features. The networking that comes out of this is more of a way to maintain already forged relationships in a new, online environment.

Twitter seems to be the least networked, as many project their tweets into the twitter-sphere where they may just float in existence forever, but it is still a way of networking. The use of Twitter as an aggregate of information allows the user to network by searching topics that are trending or by hashtags, thereby connecting them to others within their network surrounding a particular notion. Response and feedback from others is also welcomed warmly on Twitter with the use of the @ symbol.

Google Plus is attempting to make a stab at being the champion of all of these socially-based networks. With a Google Plus account, one can manage their various network memberships and tailor their appearance to the various users that interact with their profile. In this singular profile, a user can present a potential employer with a comprehensive, professional looking type of account that does not detail their summer vacation in Europe whereas a close friend may be privy to such information and more.

What is the point of balancing all of these networks? They are all online projections of self, and, no matter if you use a social network for putting up pictures of your cat or are displaying all of your career work, you are self-branding to any others in your network that have access to you. As Castells pointed out, being at a certain level of involvement within a network enables power and influence within that network - either if you began the network or if you are a gatekeeper and are a moderator of the norms within that network, you are given authority.

To that end, perhaps that is why we seek to have many Facebook friends, link to tons of connections on LinkedIn and follow ten million others on Twitter - because quantity can sometimes translate into authoritative power and reverence from others. I would like to explore how these topics are transnational in that networks know no national boundaries, especially when they form in an online environment, but would welcome any practical examples as well.

1 comment:

  1. good post Corey! We definitely live in a society that puts more importance on the quantitative aspect of our connections in a network. But Network Theory also considers the strength of networks. And by any standards, I don't think I could consider most of my Facebook friends or Linkedin connections as strong connections. It would be interesting to look at the quantitative vs. qualitative aspects of connections in Network Theory.