It’s unsurprising that the founder of LinkedIn would write an essay about how your network is a major part of your identity. It’s kind of like Facebook telling you to job hunt on Facebook. But Reid Hoffman has credentials–Startup of You remains ever relevant–and equally more crucially, he knows how to properly place our most hated pronoun into his careerist aphorisms.
We like to say things like “You are what you eat,” to reflect the reality that your diet is one of the most critical inputs to your health. In the same way, network identity states, “You are whom you choose to befriend.”
Since you can pay a growing gaggle of startups to do your own personal SEO–Reputation.com and Qnary call it reputation or identity management–it’s more and more apparent that your social network is a part of how people perceive you, so much that you can pay people to polish it for you.
As with most things social network-y, this is pragmatic vanity: beyond pleasing your ego, those automatic emails about who followed you on Twitter today or viewed your LinkedIn profile last week give you some information about the audience of the brand you build for yourself–though that’s not all a personal brand is.
And another news flash: when Hoffman meets somebody new, he looks them up on LinkedIn. “Looking at their position in the network, especially our set of mutual friends, is one of the strongest inputs into how I perceive them,” he says.
It’s a part of human psychology. As we’ve discussed before, human communication is composed of signals that extend beyond words, like body language or the way people arrange themselves around a table–messiahs in the center, for instance–but it’s also who we associate ourselves with. We can see it in our pronouns: social identity theory asserts that your sense of who you are is more defined by your “we” more than you “I.”
So when you add someone on LinkedIn or whatever other network, you are, by association, sculpting the way you present yourself to the world.