"It's important to understand what your customers are saying," Nichole Goodyear told me during this week's Marketing Smarts Podcast, but then added, "It's more important, from a marketer's perspective, to ask, 'What do you want them to be saying?'"

Listen to it later:

Once you know what you want them to say, the challenge is getting them to say it!

As the founder and CEO of several tech start-ups, Nichole—who Fast Company named one of the most influential women in technology in 2011—has long been involved in helping companies harness social media to drive word-of-mouth marketing and to get "more social signals about my brand" circulating on the Web.

In the process, she has become very familiar with the three phases of social media adoption that most companies go through.

Phase 1 involves listening to the many conversations that are taking place online.

In Phase 2, companies begin building out their online presence on Facebook, Twitter, and myriad other social platforms.

Phase 3 is the most challenging because it calls for encouraging and influencing social advocacy: Get your customers to produce content on your brand's behalf and recommend your products and services to their social graph.

What makes Phase 3 so critical is the reality that, as Nichole says, "the reach-and-frequency mechanisms" on which marketers have relied for decades "are no longer functioning as they used to."

As a result, marketers seek new approaches and new models for campaigns and engagement, models that effectively enlist customers in the process of driving awareness, generating demand, and developing next-generation products (through contests, for example, that ask customers to submit designs and ideas for new offerings).

In this podcast, we talk to Nichole about her years in the start-up trenches and how emerging technologies are allowing companies to successfully plug into their customers' referral networks as well as create programs that invite customers to put their own "fingerprint" on the brand.

She also leaves listeners with an important, cautionary reminder: Don't ignore your own website and email programs as powerful social media tools. Facebook and Twitter are great, but you actually own and control these platforms where you already have strong connections with your customer base. Use these platforms to involve your base in your social marketing efforts!