If you’ve ever taken Psychology 101, you probably learned about Abraham Maslow and his famous Hierarchy of Needs model.

Maslow believed that people are motivated to fulfill certain needs. When one need is satisfied, a person moves on to the next one, and so on. As they move up the hierarchy they increasingly realize their human potential. In Maslow’s original model, developed in 1943, these needs included physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self actualization. During the 60s and 70s, he expanded the model to include cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence needs.

Similarly, when companies adopt social media for use in marketing, they also seek to fulfill a hierarchy of needs. As I interviewed marketers for this post, the stages came into focus. First, marketers look to achieve awareness, then amplification, then helping customers with research, then connection and conversations. At the highest levels, they’re looking to use social media to create a personal brand and create a feedback loop that enables them to continually improve their marketing efforts.

1. Awareness

At its most basic level, social media is a bullhorn for companies to get the word out and promote content to create awareness for their company. As Joe Schwartz, Vice President, Digital of Kony, Inc., which offers a platform for delivering mobile aps, noted, “The original use of social media in marketing is as PR for your content.”

At this level in the social media hierarchy, companies attempt to sign up followers so that they have an audience for their posts or tweets. The posts and tweets in this stage tend to be simple introductions with a link to more detailed content or straightforward promotions.

2. Amplification

Once companies have established an audience, it’s time to look for that audience to amplify the message by passing it along to their followers, who will hopefully pass it to their followers and so on until the message picks up a life of its own. At this stage, said Andrew Spoeth, Enterprise Social Media Marketing Director for CA Technologies, “Marketers comment on influencer’s posts in the hopes that they’ll pass on their content so it’ll go viral.”

3. Research

After content starts getting out there through social media, marketing uses social to ensure their content is available where customers are looking. As marketers are well aware, the sales process has changed so that it is driven more by customers going out and searching for answers to their problems online, rather than waiting for salespeople to call them. By making content available on social media, marketers are placing content where it will be found. As Alison Munn, Senior Social Media Marketing Manager, for BMC explained, “When buyers are going out and looking for information, they’re looking on social media. Marketers need to be available and have a presence where buyers are researching.”

4. Conversation

Eventually, companies realize that social isn’t just about gaining a bullhorn, it’s about connecting ideas and information to real people. “Social allows inspiration to travel among the network instead of just from the company to individuals,” said Spoeth.

Companies facilitate the sharing of information with their customers by becoming conversationalists. Spoeth explained that “it’s about replying to and favoriting tweets and becoming part of the conversation to engage with people and to set the tone for the community.”

5. Personal Branding

The next level of social is all about helping key subject matter experts at companies create a personal brand to make a name both for themselves as individual and for the company with which they’re associated.

BMC has used this concept to good effect. “One of our main areas of success in social,” said Munn, “has been getting our executives to blog and promote thought-leadership through their Twitter accounts. We did this as a pilot project, but we’ve seen significant progress in followers, retweets and engagement. We’ve also succeeded in driving traffic back to the corporate blog. We’ve been really happy with the results.”

6. Feedback

In order to improve their marketing and social media strategy, marketers need feedback. Social provides that feedback because it’s a two-way conversation. As a result, companies can improve their thought leadership efforts and the conversations they have with their customers.

One company that is using Social media for this purpose is Interactive Intelligence, which provides business communications software and services. Said Denise Meyer, Social Media Communications Manager, “We do listening activities to drive insights, identify key themes and topics and conversations to determine what thought leadership we can represent or look for opportunities to create new conversations.”

As you embark on your social media efforts, think about where you are on the Social Media Hierarchy of needs and consider whether it makes sense to move on to the next level.