2.4 Social media performance potential topics and subject areas

Learning Goal performance potential topics: Recognize the importance of themes and topics as a structure for social media performance potential.

Reading time: approx. 17 minutes

Exercises: Exercises are in the PDF of all exercises of this course. Download it from here.

This section discusses the general application of themes and topic areas in the potential-based strategy model pbsm.

Definition topics

In the potential-based strategy model, we understand topics to be content and structures that can be assigned to a common content center or a common top handle.

Topics in pbsm can be

  • as general topics or basic topics: a basic topic or a general topic is a topic that covers a general area in which individual topic areas or individual topics can be found.
  • in groups as topic areas or topic groups: a topic area is an area consisting of many individual topics that is self-contained in terms of content.
  • as single topics: a single topic is a single topic that stands on its own and is relevant for the user to share on social media.

take place.

Topics take place in different ways in different usage formats:

  • Audience: in the Audience, topics are dealt with in terms of content by a central authority – usually the operator of the Audience – for its users via content. The communication is – apart from possibilities of reaction like liking, sharing and commenting – a one-way communication from operator to user. Institutionally, topics take place in the content orientation of the audience.
  • Community: in the community, topics take place institutionally in alignment with themes. In terms of content, topics take place as user-generated content between users.
Example basic theme: a basic theme is a  
Example topics and content: Topics contain content - content of different types, formats and quality. Themes allow content to be structured and organized. For example, we produce content on the topic of mobility, on the topic of housing, on the topic of economics, physics, medicine, etc., etc., etc. In other words, we view topics in pbsm as a grid for organizing and targeting content.  
Examples of topics and usage formats: Topics can also be used as structures in pbsm. That is, in this case we create structures with a content orientation. The formats of these structures can be of a completely different nature. Let's take the example of mobility. For this topic, we can use the most diverse usage formats in social media and set up corresponding structures.  
Audience: We practice the use of topics in the form of audiences in a sender-receiver constellation in which we distribute content on the selected topics.
Community: We design communities on one or more topics. Here the users are active on their topics.  
Networks: Networks formed around a topic are largely similar to communities.  

Definition topics

We group topics into themes in order to

  • from this to create larger constellations that are more attractive to users,
  • Create units that reach more users and are more economical to process.
  • to make market cultivation clearer.

Subject areas represent parts of a market. We also use the topic areas to define the parts of a market on which we focus our strategy.

Subject areas are constructs that we put together for individual reasons.

Importance of topics and themes in strategy development

Themes and topics as part of the markets in social media

We use the topic areas to define in which parts of the market we operate in social media and with which measures. Thematic areas define the terrain of our strategy.

Topics are markets in their form present in social media: as topics of exchange, as a form of organization of communication, in the form of content and communication about needs and services.

The strategic significance: via themes / topic areas, we address markets more precisely and in a more differentiated manner with our strategy. This means, for example, that we can directly address individual areas or factors (which define a market). At the same time, we record the benefits of social media for the business model, the competitive situation and the social media options for action at the topic level. Topics are thus, as a common level, the link between social media, competition in social media and the business model.

The strategic quality of this approach in the potential-based strategy model pbms: via themes / topic areas, we address markets more precisely and differentiated with our strategy. This means that we can, for example

  • identify and exploit market opportunities and risks more precisely within markets.
  • can target our strategy and corporate resources more precisely to specific parts of a market.
  • better assess the competitive chances of a draft strategy.

Themes as the structure of strategy development and market cultivation

We organize our markets like our market cultivation, our options for action in social media and, last but not least, the competitive situation via the topics in which the respective structures and processes take place.

  • We have already addressed topics and markets above.
  • Topics and market cultivation/business model: how we cultivate our markets is explained in the company’s business model. We examine the topics from the customer segments, value propositions, customer relationships, and channels modules of the business model, which are crucial for this, to see how they can be supported or changed by social media.
  • Topics and social media action options: the social media action options are based on topics, i.e. they are defined for the individual topics / subject areas.
  • Themes and competition: how do we represent the competitive situation at the theme / topic level. This enables us to map and shape competitive situations in a more targeted manner.

The practical significance: we use themes and topics to derive and present our options for action for social media and our actions in social media – in markets, for the business model, in competition, and for corporate goals – in a common format. From the courses of action, we choose the options that are most compelling for our social media strategy. In other words, topics and subject areas are the basis for deriving content in both the processes of action options and strategy definition. Since topics and topic areas in social media are the content-related (thematic) definitions of markets, not only is the strict orientation to markets or market areas methodically ensured, we also act within the markets in a more precise and application-related manner. We can address markets much more precisely in social media via topics than via all other criteria and levels.

Topics as a path to target groups

In other methods of strategy development, target groups / people are supporting elements of strategy development or stand at its beginning. In the potential-based strategy model pbsm, we focus on topics. Target groups, on the other hand, are not the focus of consideration, at least at the beginning of strategy development.

Topics instead of target groups

The fact that target groups are not at the center of strategy development in pbsm does not mean that they are necessarily of little relevance. The potential-based strategy model focuses on themes because they better reflect the approach – focusing on the potential of markets and social media performance potential.

Topics are markets: we work our markets through exchanges with potential customers and with current customers. In this, the topics necessarily differ in content but they form the core of the exchange. No exchange without topics. Neither of communication, nor of performance. Topics transport needs, requirements, services, problems, etc. etc. etc. If we use the topics that describe our markets and determine their factors, we have an applicable instrument that is typical for social media and with which we can influence markets and competitive situations.

Topics are a central element of social media: we exchange ideas about topics – in all usage formats in social media. Topics frame like the substance of our relationships and networking. This also means that we establish and maintain relevant contacts on relevant topics. Through content and communication on a topic, people interested in this topic can be found in social media. Provided the topic can be found on social media, of course. So we also use topics to find suitable potential prospects and customers in social media. Topics are thus also the bridge to market participants.

Topics are the bridge to target groups: as soon as we successfully use relevant topics in social media, we reach our target groups. Of course, the success with which we use these topics also determines the success with which we reach these target groups.

Topics as a filter in social media: not everyone who belongs to a target group also has the same interests. Depending on how finely we can define target groups, they also become somewhat more homogeneous. Roughly defined socio-demographic target groups are also only applicable to a very limited extent. The example Prince Charles and Ozzy Osbourne shows this problem very strikingly. Lifestyle-based target group definition is also the differentiation of target groups based on certain topics that interest these target groups. Most importantly, topics in social media are much easier to use as filters than complex socio-demographic and psychological criteria.

Formation of thematic areas and strategy development

We can design thematic areas both at the level of options for action and at the level of strategy definition – which is downstream from the derivation of options for action.

Since we use topic areas to make a structural decision with strategic significance – by defining possible focal points for market development through the topic areas – it would also be justifiable to compile topic areas only in the strategy definition phase. However, this would then be equivalent to a significantly higher amount of work in defining the options for action and would lead to a significantly less clear result due to the higher number of topics compared to the topic areas.

Therefore, we form thematic areas at the level of options for action. We decide which topics are the focus of the strategy / strategy draft in the strategy definition.

Use of themes to identify options for action in social media.

Our courses of action are based on themes. This enables us to recognize which opportunities we have to work a specific segment of a market and to shape the competition in it. By prioritizing topics, we can at the same time align market cultivation in social media much more precisely with our individual goals and requirements. At the same time, the social media affinity of the respective topics enables us to recognize how well or less well markets can be processed in social media. Accordingly, the options for action of the individual topics are the basis for the development of the social media strategy.

Priority of topics

Not all topics have the same significance for the economic success of the company, the competitive situation or a functioning business model.

In order to do justice to the importance of the individual topics, we define their priority in coordination with the respective functional areas.

Criteria and categories

Prioritizing topics (such as customer segment topics, value propositions, customer relationships) is not always easy, not least because it also sets priorities for future developments. Here, close coordination and involvement of the company’s management, which ultimately sets the strategic direction – and thus priorities for markets – is important. In addition, different perspectives of functional areas on topics easily result in different priorities.

Defining criteria and categories is recommended here as a step before defining priorities. At the same time, it is no less advisable to refrain from too fine prioritization in order not to make processes overly punishing.

For the categories, I recommend reducing them to 3 broad categories, which can be defined as follows:

  • indispensable: these topics are indispensable for the company because they are existentially significant.
  • important: these topics are economically important for the company because of their contribution to the company’s results.
  • useful: these topics contribute to the economic success of the company, but are neither existential nor indispensable for the company’s results.

It is not important that you strictly follow this example in your company. It is important that you define criteria and categories that are universally accepted and understandable in order to be able to define priorities that are accepted and purposeful.

Topics of the individual sources

Our topics come from

  • Market / markets (via business model modules customer segment and value propositions)
  • the modules of the business model as a whole
  • relevant business objectives (for example, for priorities of existing markets, new market entry, priorities of value propositions, priorities of specific customer segments and customer relationships.

We developed the topics from these sources together with the functions responsible for these areas.

Inevitably, the same themes are found in the individual sources. Topics that define a part of the market are, for example, also topics about which competition is fought out in this market or which are used within a business model.

By bringing together the topics from all sources, we create a common basis for our options for action, for our strategy, and we ensure that this basis/strategy reflects the market, competition, business model, and corporate goals.

Derivation of subject areas

If we are dealing with only a few topics, we can dispense with the use of topic areas. If the identification of the relevant topics resulted in a large number of topics, the formation of topic areas is helpful because we can use them to facilitate the overview.

Topic sources

In order to group topics into themes, we use the following as factual criteria for the formation of themes

  • the closeness of the topics in terms of content. This is about topics that complement each other in terms of content, can form a common denominator, can form a self-contained market segment. Here, for example, topics from customer segments, value propositions, customer relationships, and channels are combined to form a closed system around a need or service.
  • the factual or temporal sequence of topics. Topics that follow one another in a causal sequence – such as in a customer journey or in user decision-making processes.
  • a common user benefit for the definition of topics. This means that we form subject areas whose factual cohesion consists of a common user benefit.
  • common usage formats for the formation of subject areas. In this case, the common denominator of the topics is a common usage format.

Compatibility of the topics of a subject area

When forming subject areas from topics – via the described factual relationships, the compatibility of the topics within the subject area is a prerequisite for the formation of the subject area.

We should also involve the tangential functional areas when forming subject areas.

Priorities of subject areas

Like the topics themselves, the topic areas differ to a greater or lesser extent in their importance for the company. In defining the priority of the subject areas, we are guided by the priority of the issues that make up those areas.

We use the priorities of the subject areas (and of course of topics) to

  • align the focus of our strategy with the company’s priorities for the market, competition, business model and corporate goals.
  • orienting the strategy to the present and the future by including the future importance of subject areas for the company in the weighting of the subject areas.
  • also align the content of the social media strategy with the importance of the topic areas.

Topics / subject areas are market potentials

Just a reminder: when we talk about topics, we always also talk about the corresponding market potentials.

Themes and competition

We are in competition with the topics in which we are active. If we decide to be active in a specific topic, we also decide to be active in a specific competition.

To be successful in a topic or group of topics (subject area), we need the attention of social media users. As we are active in social media at the same time in a digital environment, we also have to compete digitally (for attention and more). To compete in a digital competition, Olympic-style participation is not enough. We have to at least get on the winner’s podium here – more than in other competitive situations.

Benefits for strategy development: Themes and topic areas help us to recognize the market and not least the competitive situation in a market more clearly. By identifying the competitive situation for the most important topics / subject areas, we have a more accurate picture of the market, which allows us to develop more precise and therefore more effective strategies.

In order to understand and classify the competition within vo themes and topic areas, we analyze the activities of the competition for each theme / topic area. For this we consider what the competition

  • of social media usage formats ,
  • what user benefits are offered by the competition,
  • Which motivational methodsand structures are used by the competition
  • which participation opportunitiesthe competition offers.

Subject areas and their options for action

We define subject areas via the topics that make up the “playing field”.

  • of our markets,
  • of our business model,
  • of our competition

describe We group these topics into subject areas according to their characteristics, where this is necessary due to the volume of topics. In this way, we create a common basis across these areas (markets, business model, competition) for strategy development that maps the performance potential of social media for the company, its markets and competitive situations.

Identification of the individual options for action in the respective subject areas

For the individual subject areas, we determine their options for action, which we then discuss in the first step using the best possible content for

  • UserBenefits,
  • Usage formats,
  • Participation,
  • Motivation

define. Competition is shaped via these strategy components, so they are crucial to the success of our social media strategy.

In the next step, we contrast our best possible courses of action with the competitive situation. This allows us to see how competitive our intended courses of action are.

With the options for action for individual topics, we have a decided view of the requirements and opportunities in the market and competition, which makes it possible to derive a promising strategy as a whole. In addition, we recognize in which market areas (subject areas) we and how we can prevail in competition, or where this will probably be difficult or impossible for us.

This enables us to respond more precisely to individual market situations in our strategy, deploy resources in a more targeted and effective manner, and ultimately increase our opportunities in the market and among our competitors.

The basic principles and their application for the action options UserBenefits, Usage Formats, Participation, and Motivation are described in the sections

  • Options for action UserBenefit
  • Options for action Utilization formats
  • Options for action Participation
  • Options for action Motivation

dealt with in more detail.

Adaptation to change

Changes in markets, in corporate priorities and growth directions are reason to adapt our social media strategy accordingly. Adapting existing social media strategies to changing circumstances requires that we perceive these changes and understand their effects or requirements on our strategy, classify them correctly, and know and master the corresponding adjusting screws for adapting our strategy. In this case, adjusting the topics and subject areas affected by the changes.


For the application we observe the following principles.

  • We integrate the respective functional areas affected in the definition of topics, subject areas and priorities.
  • We reduce the burden on other functional areas with tasks related to strategy development as far as possible. No one likes additional tasks from other areas.


  • Merging the topics: We summarize the topics from the market and business model.
  • Formation of subject areas.

Merging the topics

We worked with the respective functional areas to identify the topics that are important for the functional area to use in social media.

Inevitably, many issues from the market are also reflected in the competitive situation and business model. This is easy to explain because topics that are important to users in the market can and should also be important in the business model. If certain topics are only found in one area, this is worth a second look.

We bring together the topics from all sources / areas in order to reduce redundancy in further work steps and to have a common basis for deriving the options for action such as strategy development.

Priorities of the individual topics

We also used the topics to identify their priority. By merging the topics, we are also merging the priorities of the topics. Here it is useful to find a consensus on the priorities of the individual topics. This does not have to be difficult, but it can be challenging if the assessments of the individual functional areas on the priorities of issues differ significantly.

Social media affinity of the individual topics

We also used the topics to determine their social media affinity. When merging the topics

Formation of subject areas

We form thematic areas to make our strategy more concise and to create clusters that can correspond to either or both individual market segments, areas of interest or customer segments. Subject areas must be as homogeneous and delimitable as possible in order to be recognized as areas by users and employees alike.

In addition, we use subject areas to reduce the complexity resulting from a large number of topics. Strategy development becomes easier and more manageable. Both are advantages that should not be underestimated.

Criteria for the formation of subject areas

We design subject areas – according to our own as well as external criteria -.

  • from the content-related nature of the topics: we group together topics that fit under a common content umbrella.
  • from the creation of benefits for the user: we group together topics whose commonality lies in the user benefits they create.
  • from goals that the company is pursuing in this part of the market: we group together topics with which we want to achieve specific corporate goals.
  • from the importance of topics for the company’s success: we group topics together on the basis of their importance for the company’s success, for example on the basis of the market potential they represent or on the basis of their importance for market development or for decisions relevant to success.
  • from the importance of topics for users (user interests): for example, we summarize topics based on their importance for users in order to reach specific target groups. These topics do not necessarily have to be related to services provided by the company.

Compatibility of the topics in the subject areas

The prerequisite for the formation of topic areas is the actual compatibility of the topics for the users. I.e. we do not combine topics into subject areas if this does not make sense for the users. Best case would be if users experience a resulting benefit from the formation of topics.

This benefit can result, for example, in a simpler or clearer, more convenient information bandwidth (in the case of an audience) or a community that is more attractive to the user (in the case of a community). Or in a more pleasant process for the user, which facilitates decisions and offers a better orientation in a whole world of topics.

Definition of the priorities of the thematic areas

We derive the priority of the subject areas according to the priority of the topics they contain.

Practical application

Wherever other functional areas are affected by social media, we should involve those functional areas. Make sure to keep the workload for other functional areas as low as possible. For example, work out the topics for the social media strategy and their priorities together; you should not necessarily include these areas in the analysis of the competitive situation and the social media affinity of the topics and subject areas.


Task markets and themes

Define topics for services and needs contained in a market of your company. (10 topics each for services and 10 topics each for needs).

Task Topics and Priority

Define criteria for the priority of topics, justify the criteria and apply these criteria to define the priority of your topics from the previous task.

Task Topics and Social Media Affinity

Define the social media affinity of at least 5 topics.

Task Topics

Derive at least 2 homogeneous topic areas from your topics.