I realize it sounds fairly ridiculous to say that Social Media is in its infancy since according to comScore, there are more than 1 trillion digital interactions that take place each month. What I mean by infancy is people are still using social media in pretty much the same way they did when it was first popularized, they’re just doing more of it.

Whenever I give a strategy talk, I often start with a story about a real-life situation and ask my audience, “How many of you are still struggling with gaining true value from your social media program?”

Inevitably the majority of the audience raise their hands. Then I give them an actual case where a company used it successfully, and how.

So what’s missing from much of today’s social media is it is all outbound in strategy. Companies view social media as a megaphone in much the same way they have used television ads, radio spots, and highway billboards. And it’s easy to understand why this is because that’s how the last 60 years of advertising and marketing has worked.

The challenge today for marketers is to stop talking so much and start listening far more! This is tough for even the largest companies because it goes against everything they have always done. But it’s really not that much of a shift once you get the hang of it. The secret behind a successful social media platform is one that is built on listening to customers, not talking at them.

Let’s say you’re the manager of a hotel and you are going to use social media to attract new hotel guests. Instead of bill-boarding your marketing messages start looking for Twitter comments such as “best hotels in Chicago” where your hotel is located. Or if you own a custom construction company and would like to find qualified customers to design and build a home for, listen for “creative architect” or other search terms that are being used on Twitter or Google, or wherever.

The key to making this strategy a success is getting to know your customers as well as you can and then presenting a customer experience of exactly what they have been searching for. The funny thing is, they’ve been listening all along. Marketers need to catch up!