Marcus Collins: Why social networks matter so much

May 17, 2018
Contact: Greta Guest


Marcus Collins, Marketing lecturer at the Ross School of Business.

Marcus Collins, Marketing lecturer at the Ross School of Business.

Marcus Collins is a lecturer of marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. His expertise centers on the cognitive drivers that impact consumer behavior. He’s chief consumer connections officer at Doner, a Southfield-based advertising agency.


Q: Marketers have used demographics and psychographics to find the right audiences. What’s lacking in this data?

Collins: We like to simplify things. We want the world to make sense. We put people in boxes and we often refer to them by their demography. While these things are factual, they don’t accurately describe who people are. And psychographics focus on your passions—where you go and what you like. Psychographics are far better than demographics, but they don’t tell you why you do something.

Q: What makes social networks so influential?

Collins: We connect with people who are just like us. When I say networks, I mean our people, our friends. We have shared believes, unwritten rules, rituals and social norms. Psychographics—what we like, where we go, what we do—are byproducts of our networks. Networks of people provide a far more powerful way to describe the way people are, but we also get a sense of causality.

We are in multiple networks all the time. Our people, our networks are the most influential to us. Social proof is the notion that we look to our people to find out what we should do. Our behavior can be predicted by the behavior of people around us.

Imagine the power of our network. Imagine the influence of the people who mean the most to us. This is ridiculously powerful. The job of marketing is to influence behavior. Everything we do is getting people to act. Drink this, not that. Vote for this person, not that person. People trust strangers more than they trust marketers. We are social animals by nature. We rely on our people. This is what makes social marketing so powerful. Messages and behaviors are propagated by a trusted source.

Q: How should brands approach network influence?

Collins: Instead of brands communicating its product’s value propositions, brands should tap into the networks of people who see the world similarly as the brand. In these instances, people use the brand to communicate their own identity. The best opportunity exists where the brand conviction intersects with the network beliefs.

The better we understand people the better we are at what we do. If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business. Because business at its core is people.