2.6 Social media performance potential Participation

Learning Goal: To recognize, understand, and be able to apply the social media performance potential through participation.

Reading time: approx. 12 minutes

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


Social media differs from other media not least because of the more active role of users. Shared activities, shared exchanges, and shared content are typical examples of participation in a personal social network. The users themselves become media sources.

Effect of participation

Different effects result from the participation of social media users. On the one hand, user participation increases the activity and thus also the attractiveness of a social media offering for other social media users. On the other hand, participation in a social media offering is also a form of recommendation for this social media offering. Whether this is a positive recommendation or a negative one depends on the type of participation. In addition, participation also has a competitive dimension, so it can have an impact in competition. The more social media users participate on an offer/channel, the less time and commitment remains for other offers, especially for the offers of direct competitors (performance competitors and topic competitors). Participation thus ensures reach activity, the attractiveness of social media offerings, and enables competitive advantages.

The design of participation opportunities – like the use of motivational systems – requires constructive access to the respective platforms and channels. In other words, to deploy participation capabilities, we need either our own platforms and channels or external social media channels that enable the integration of user participation features. Unfortunately, external platforms without design options often do not offer attractive participation opportunities that take the interests of the company into account.

If companies are dependent on external platforms to build up their reach and no suitable participation offerings can be integrated into the platform, there is still the option of using the external platform as a feeder for a more powerful platform, i.e., to build up reach on the external platform that leads in use to the platform that is more suitable for the company – usually its own. In order for users to take this additional step – from a reach platform to a participation platform – there needs to be a correspondingly convincing user benefit from participation.

Meaning of participation

As complex as user participation can be, its importance is clear. Without user participation, the result is simply much less. We all know the difference between whether a post is shared intensively or only gets a like now and then, whether a video goes viral or is noticed within narrow limits. Participation is a crucial success factor. However, not one that is subject to chance alone. Participation must be designed or you get what’s left of the pie, brought about by chance or made possible by the chosen platform of its own accord.

To look at the importance of participation, we should also not underestimate the business aspect of user participation. If users provide for the distribution of content, this is more favorable for the company than if it has to place advertisements. When users take care of other users’ problems, this can not only come across as more interesting and credible, but also turn out to be more economically gratifying.

In strategy development, we tap into one of the most important performance potentials of social media as a whole and a strategically relevant competitive advantage with participation opportunities. The contents of our Participation strategy component place specific requirements on our social media channels. So if we decided on social media channels first, before we decided on the content of our participation, this would be problematic because we would have reduced our scope for shaping participation. The same applies, of course, to user benefits, motivation and usage formats.

Types of participation

The bandwidth for user participation is not that small and depends on the interest of the users to get involved and on the willingness of the companies to offer relevant participation opportunities. If we look at the different types of user participation, the range of basic possibilities becomes clearer. Although the types of participation are presented in their typical particularity, they can of course also occur in variants as well as be used in combination with each other.

Ad hoc and spontaneous

  • Definition: Users participate once and spontaneously because they feel the need to do so.
  • Example: The typical examples of this are comments, likes, and shares – features we know in social media as a kind of standard for user engagement because they are widely used.
  • UserBenefit: the user meets a spontaneous need.
  • CompanyBenefits: The activity in the social media offer becomes higher. The offer or content from it is distributed.

Regular participation

  • Definition: The user acts regularly in the social media offering. He seeks out the offer out of his own interest and with the intention of becoming actively involved in it if possible.
  • Example: Users regularly visit audiences, forums or communities to see if there is something relevant and interesting for them and if they can comment on it.
  • UserBenefits: e.g., perception, self-expression, benefit creation for others.
  • CompanyBenefits: Increase the activity, attractiveness and usefulness of the social media offering for other users.

Permanent participation

  • Definition: The user uses the social media offering more than regularly. It is an integral part of its online activities.
  • Example: using a social network platform to maintain your own social network or using a community to maintain an important hobby.
  • UserBenefits: as with regular participation only in a more pronounced form and more strongly perceived by others.
  • CompanyBenefits: as for regular participation. User is an important element for the activity and attractiveness of the social media offer.

Individual participation

  • Definition: The user acts as an individual at his or her own discretion within a free, unorganized framework.
  • Example: The user uses forums, audiences to inform or entertain himself and social network platforms such as Facebook to maintain personal contacts.
  • UserBenefit: the user does not make any commitment and is active only according to his own ideas.
  • CorporateBenefit: The user contributes to the activity in the social media offering.

Organized participation

  • Definition: the user acts within an organized framework in coordination and agreement with other users or the operator of the social media offering.
  • Example: the user supports other users with their problems and questions based on their own experience and expertise.
  • UserBenefit: the user acts within an agreed framework.
  • CompanyBenefit: the engagement becomes more reliable as organized for the company. At the same time, user participation can be incorporated into services for users.

Shaping participation

  • Definition: The user is actively involved in the further development and design of the social media platform.
  • Example: The social media offering is supported and further developed by users. The company acting as the platform operator has brought on board social media users from their target groups or with expertise in a particular area, for example, to align the platform as closely as possible with the interests and needs of social media users.
  • UserBenefit: the user can contribute his or her skills to the social media offering and thus work on its development. His motivation lies in the success of the social media offering and his part in that success.
  • CompanyBenefits: the company receives support in the operation and further development of the social media offering. The offer becomes more attractive, more relevant and more credible, because users work on it. External expertise and insights are available to the company.

Levels and qualities of user participation

In the following, the differences in the design – not least the user benefits from participation – and the resulting impact of participation opportunities become clearer.

  • The classic social media marketing track: a company sells motorhomes and asks users networked with the company – mostly customers – to send in their favorite pictures from their vacation. Prizes will be awarded to the best entries. Participation consists of sending in vacation pictures, which in turn may have some appeal to social media users. There is no significant interaction in social media, the user benefit is the viewing of vacation pictures of other users. The company’s interest lies in engaging the website visitors a bit more and possibly encouraging them to visit again. The participation has more the character of an action than an infrastructure. It is quite likely that sooner or later this measure will lose its appeal and die down.
  • A little more motivation and social media: The company leaves the selection of the best images to the users and facilitates the dissemination of the uploaded images to the social networks with the request to vote for these images directly when uploading. This spreads the action and taps into the social networks of connected social media users. The action gets a different reach and also meaning for the participating users, because they can get recognition for their uploaded pictures from their circle of friends. The user benefit from participation lies in a higher perception of their own images and a visibly higher recognition, expressed in ratings and comments.
  • From the action in social media to the social media infrastructure: the company combines the action with the creation of simple profiles and a motivation system – to vote on the images – and leads the action into a permanent structure. Users can upload pictures permanently and you can subscribe to other users’ pictures. If possible in the stream of your own social network profile. This is combined with the possibility of evaluation, comments, and, if possible, direct communication in order to be able to dust off experiences. The user benefit of this social media offering is on the social level, so it corresponds to the idea of social media more comprehensively. In addition to the advantages of self-portrayal, recognition for one’s own photos and the possibility of sharing one’s own experiences and adventures with others, there is also the possibility of expanding one’s own social network to include people with the same interests and to maintain these contacts.
  • On the way to becoming a social media champion: The company uses a tagging system to make content lockable in an automated way. Users tag their images and commonalities become visible, which can be used to compile images into collections that have increased entertainment value (activity) and through which users with the same tags can be brought together and networked – this ensures user activity and networking. Communication, information and subscription functions and the connection to external social network platforms create a social media offering that is permanent and permanently effective – in the form of a community with corresponding community management. The user benefit here is also on the social level, but the attractiveness of the offer is increased by a more comprehensive performance. The user benefit “expansion of one’s own network through people with the same interests” will very likely be significantly higher through technological support and appropriate management, i.e. it will be more attractive and more competitive.
  • Social Media Champion plus: We have most recently built and kept active a community of RV fans of our company in the previous variants. Now we could take a further step and open up this community – focused on our own motorhomes – to motorhome fans from other providers, potential WoMoFans, newcomers and those returning. With supplemented profiles that serve the social media users’ own preferences and through which users can connect even further. This provides us with an important source of information on concrete needs, such as experiences and wishes – both from our own range of products and from the competition. And we have established direct access to the market potential of our competitors. The longer and more intensively we can do this undisturbed, the stronger we bind WoMo users, including those of our competitors, to our platform. It goes without saying that this must be designed accordingly conceptually, communicatively and functionally. And also not quite trivial. The UserBenefit is similar to the previous example on a social level with a high level of support and in this case with a much higher potential reach. This social media offering is inevitably more comprehensive and attractive than the previous offerings, and is likely to prevail in the competition between systems.
  • Participative social media offerings: the social media offering is co-managed and designed by social media users. Users take on tasks in the management or operation of the platform or the support and management of social media users. The user benefit lies in the platform, which thus corresponds more closely to the user’s ideas, and in the opportunities for self-realization.

User participation as a question of corporate culture

In addition to the aforementioned prerequisites for user participation, corporate culture plays a role in this topic. Companies that are organized in a strict hierarchy find it much more difficult to engage with user participation in processes that take place on behalf of and at the level of the company. This is understandable, but can lead to competitive disadvantages.

Companies for which social media has more than decorative significance are generally well advised to open up their own corporate culture to design and developments beyond strict hierarchies. Opening up to the market in the form of participation of this market via social media can become a competitive advantage or a competitive disadvantage. It should be assumed that this development will take place.

For the development of social media strategy, we may be faced with the decision to point out a necessary reorientation and transformation of the corporate culture or to limit the social media strategy to the points that are possible in the existing corporate culture. In the short term, the latter approach may seem less risky. In the longer term, for the sake of social media success, it would be wiser to either instigate potential change or change yourself.


User engagement is inevitably an indispensable part of a social media strategy because of its importance to its success. To ensure that this is actually the case, we use participation as a fixed strategy component with the same name in the potential-based strategy model.

We therefore work with a strategy component of participation in strategy development. We define the application – i.e. the definition of user participation and its implementation, the interactions with other strategy components and the individual measures and goals in the final form in the strategy component Participation and in the modules Options for Action and Strategy Definition.

We define the content of participation in the corresponding strategy component. However, it is very helpful for us to look at some strategic elements for the application of participation already here.

Design of participation

Participation that only serves the interests of the company but does not meet the interests of social media users faces questionable success. In your deliberations, make sure that the development of participation offerings is also, and not least, based on the interests of the users and that participation and user benefits are designed to be compatible and mutually supportive elements. In other words – without a convincing user benefit from participation, there will be no significant user participation.

Sources of participation

We develop approaches for the development of participation opportunities analogous to the procedure for the development of motivational approaches. Procedures:

  • Interests: We focus on the interests and desires of the users and look for opportunities there to contribute to a successful experience for the users with the help of participation opportunities. Once we have found suitable interests and desires for this and have derived possible success experiences from them, we examine the social quality of the success experiences. True to the motto that joy shared is joy doubled, we check whether and how we can give our participation opportunities and the resulting sense of achievement a social quality, i.e. make them shareable and as permanently recognizable as possible for the users’ social networks.
  • UserBenefit: we check which UserBenefit we can create in our topics / subject areas through user participation. Again, social benefits, benefits that grow through the participation of other users, are better.
  • CorporateBenefit: we check which benefit for business model and corporate goals we can create with the participation of users. To do this, we examine the company’s most important activities (key activities of the business model) in addition to the customer segments, value propositions, channels, and customer relationships modules.
  • Business model: we check which participation opportunities are meaningful and valuable for the company and the users in our business model by analyzing the individual modules of the business model.
  • Corporate goals: here we proceed as with the business model and check which corporate goals can be supported by user participation.

Interactions of participation

With user participation, we are not only changing competitive situations. Participation also changes strategies. So when we add participation offerings to existing strategies, we should consider what the implications are for other strategy components. This sounds trivial, but should not be underestimated. Here are a few examples:

  • Participation and user benefits: we need convincing user benefits for participation offerings. If this benefit from participation is provided by the user benefit of the strategy, that is wonderful but not self-evident or automatic. If we put a second UserBenefit in the strategy, it would be very good if this complementary UserBenefit for participation was compatible or better complementary with the UserBenefit of the strategy.
  • Participation and company benefits: In addition to the users, participation should also benefit the company. That is why, when developing the user benefit for the participation, we examine which part of the business model or which of the company’s goals can and should benefit from this participation. Of course, we make sure that the user benefit is not less important than the company benefit.
  • Participation and social media channels: participation offerings give rise to conceptual and technical requirements for the strategy’s social media channels. That is, we could make it easy on ourselves and limit the participation offerings to what is possible within the designated social media channels. But in doing so, we are foregoing a crucial element of social media’s success. Ultimately, the quality of a social media strategy is also determined by the participation component of the strategy, which success is possible for the company.
  • Participation and resources: in addition to the classic resources (manpower, budget), a need for corresponding expertise (for participation offerings and possibly also individual social media channels) that should not be underestimated is essential for this component of the strategy.

Exercise own company

Describe the participation offerings of your company's existing social media strategy according to

  • the type of user participation,
  • the user benefits from this participation,
  • the interests of the users that are addressed, and
  • the practical prerequisites that must be in place for user participation.
  • the competitive situation of a possible participation offer for your company.
  • the company benefit that can be realized with this participation.

Define the participation offers that are basically possible for your own company. Describe also here

  • the type of user participation,
  • the user benefits from this participation,
  • the interests of the users, which are addressed thereby and
  • the practical prerequisites that must be met for user participation.
  • the competitive situation of a possible participation offer for your company.
  • the company benefit that can be realized with this participation.

Exercise Competition

Perform the same exercises on your company's most important performance competitor.