3.1 Defining social media options for action

Learning Goal: Understand and apply social media options of action as the basis for strategy development.

Reading time: approx. 22 minutes

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

This section covers social media courses of action for themes and topics and includes basics and general application of themes and topics. This once again explicitly integrates the performance potential of social media for topics. The options for action for user benefits, usage formats, motivation and participation within the individual topics are also integrated into this.

Definition of options for action

As social media options for action, we describe the options for action that are possible in social media in a specific situation. In the potential-based strategy model, social media options for action refer to specific fields of action for topics or subject areas. We determine the social media handling options via the nature / suitability of these fields of action as well as their competitive situation.

Definition topics

In the potential-based strategy model, we understand topics to be content and structures that can be assigned toa common content center or a common top handle. Topics take place in different ways in different usage formats.

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 aligning 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 the action option in strategy development

In this section, we cover the use of our company’s courses of action in strategy development. Our strategy development is based on the options available to us for action. Our options for action therefore define our scope for developing social media strategies.

  • Options for action describe what is possible in and with social media in a specific situation for the company based on the market situation (social media affinity and competition).
  • Based on our options for action, we can identify which opportunities are available in the competitive environment.
  • from our options for action we develop strategy options, i.e. we decide which of the available options we want to use and how.

Options for action are alternatives

If we understand options for action as what they are – alternatives – it is easy to understand that we need more than one option for a concrete situation. Otherwise, we would have no alternative. How many alternatives you ultimately need or want to develop is a question based on your specific situation. Generally speaking, it can only be said that it should be more than one option for action.

So, when deriving courses of action as alternatives, remember to focus on different emphases rather than different quality.

Work with 3 courses of action and try to make each of these alternatives a real possible best option. It is usually difficult enough three n to define the high-quality alternatives. Avoid manipulative approaches, that is, the development of a good Hnadlungsoptione and other significantly weaker alternatives.
Without knowing our options for action, we cannot develop a qualified strategy.

Importance of topics and themes in strategy development

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

The basic meaning: via topics / subject areas, we address markets more precisely and differentiated with our strategy. This means that we can, for example

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.

The practical significance: we use topics and themes to derive and present our options for action for 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 (thematic) definitions of markets, the strict orientation to markets or market areas is methodologically ensured.

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 topic areas already at the level of options for action. We decide which topics are the focus of the strategy / strategy draft in the strategy definition.

Processes for deriving options for action

We determine the options for action for our social media strategy at the level of the themes from the business model and corporate goals. We compare the best courses of action that are feasible for us for the individual topics and subject areas with the corresponding offers of the competition in the respective topics. From this, we identify the competitive quality of our intended options for the individual topics/topic areas and the strategy components UserBenefit, Usage Formats, Participation, and Motivation.

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. At the same time, 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.

Competitive quality of options for action

With our social media strategy (and the social media offerings based on it), we are in a (digitally driven) competition for attention. The actual value of an option for action depends not least on its competitive quality. In a digital competition, our option for action can – and should – be

  • leading in the competition be. In second place, the potentials are already much thinner. Digital contests are decidedly drastic. In a digital competition for attention, the runner-up is more likely to be the first loser than the second winner. Criterion: We are leading the competition with a course of action if this course of action is clearly superior to the approaches and methods used in the market to date. This superiority can be structural – for example, due to a superior usage format – or content-related, for example, due to a significantly more attractive user benefit. The important thing about competitive advantages based on content is that they cannot be offset by competitors in the short term.
  • equal to the competition be Equal sounds more positive than it is. If there is no clear winner, the “equals” fight even more intensively to secure a little more of the potential. This competitive situation is extremely interesting but not necessarily pleasant because it means that we are in an intensified competitive environment (oligopoly plus digital competition). Criterion: We are competing on an equal footing if our option does not entail any fundamental competitive advantages but also does not exhibit any competitive disadvantages. This can also be justified in terms of structure and content. Note: If we encounter already established equivalent offerings with an equivalent or similar offering and users therefore see little reason to reorient themselves, factual equivalence is rather unhelpful in practice. In a competition for attention, as in other digital competitions, equivalence is not a particularly recommendable option but a situation to be avoided.
  • backward in competition be. Criterion: our option for action has significant disadvantages compared to competitive offers, so are not competitive. Courses of action with no competitiveness are not courses of action that we should consider in our strategy. Nevertheless, we would be well advised not to completely ignore options for action that do not involve competitiveness, especially if there is a risk that these options for action could come up again in the further development of strategy.

Benefit of the distinction

We use this simple distinction to provide a simple overview of the quality of possible courses of action. Since we are in a competition for attention in a digital competition, any option for action beyond green is not very promising and should therefore only be used if the respective topic area is not of particular importance to the company, i.e. company resources should not be focused on it.


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.

Example work template

We summarize the topics from the business model and corporate goals that we have defined as relevant for the social media strategy in consultation with the functional areas of the company. This summary is an essential step because it describes the playing field of our strategy. Accordingly, everyone involved in the company should be clear about the playing field and its boundaries.

Presentation of the options for action of subject areas and their competitive quality

Clutter is the enemy of strategy development. As humans, we are not particularly good at keeping track of a wide variety of factors. For this reason, it makes sense to present the options for action and their competitive quality in such a clear way that they can be grasped with one or two glances, especially in the case of a larger number of topics. The following is one way of presenting options for action on a topic area that facilitates this.

Example of the presentation of options for action and their competitiveness for a topic area.

Explanation of the representation

Subject area

We create an overview for each subject area. Of course, you can also focus on the most important topics, but then you run the risk of eliminating possible courses of action for your strategy from the strategy development process at an early stage.


It is highly recommended to keep the priority of a topic area in mind when we derive the action options for that topic area and present them for strategy development. Otherwise, we run the risk of insufficiently taking into account market priorities and not setting our focus precisely.


The social media affinity of topic areas reminds us how much we can influence those topic areas through social media. It makes sense not to lose sight of this fact in the course of strategy development, because otherwise we could run the risk of setting priorities in subject areas that can only be influenced insufficiently or with extreme difficulty by social media.


Using the sources of the topic areas, we record for which areas of the business model, the market, the company goals the respective topic area is of particular importance. So we recognize via the sources what our options for action affect and via the responsibilities for these areas not least also which functional areas should be included in the definition of the options for action.

User benefit

We describe the most important possible and meaningful courses of action for user benefits in the respective topic area. At the same time, we use the color coding to define the competitiveness of the respective action option.

We limit the number of action options for UserBenefit to 3 options in this example. Otherwise, the clarity suffers.

Example Action Options UserBenefit

The example above shows 3 different options for action, 2 of which have the potential to lead the competition (green option) and one of which is expected to have at best an equivalent effect (yellow option).

As a reminder, we present the main courses of action in terms of their competitive quality. We define which of these we will use in the strategy development, not in the options for action.

Usage formats

We proceed with the usage formats in the same way as with the user benefits. we record the possible and reasonable usage formats and their competitive potential in this presentation.


We proceed with the motivation methods and structures in the same way as with the user benefits. We keep track of the possible and useful motivation methods and structures and their competitive potential for the respective subject area.


We take the same approach to participation offerings as we do to motivation. We keep track of the meaningful, possible participation offerings and structures and their competitive potential.

Presentation of the competitiveness of an option

We present the competitive potential of the individual options in an easily recognizable way via the color. This allows us to quickly see the competitive opportunities of each option within the individual topic area and across multiple topic areas.

Result of the processes: Overview of the options for action and their competitive potential for the subject areas.

After gaining an overview of the individual options for action and their competitive potential for one topic area, we gain an overview of the options for action and their competitive potential for several / all relevant topic areas. This provides us with a central overview for the development of our social media strategy.

Example of an overview for the action options of several topics.

We remember that the colors that are deposited for the respective options describe the competitive quality of the individual option.

  • Red means that this option neither provides a competitive advantage in the sense of a leading competitive situation nor a level playing field with the existing competitive situation.
  • Orange represents a tie with the competition.
  • Green represents a potential competitive advantage / leading competitive position in the respective strategy component through this option.

Practical use of the overview

We can see at a glance – for the topics presented – what we can use to achieve what effect in the individual strategy components.

This allows us to more easily evaluate strategy options and their competitive potential across themes. Which will be helpful for strategy definition.

We recognize more easily in which subject area we can be competitive overall – with the options for action provided – and how. This is helpful in deriving the focus of the strategy for each topic area.

How we deal with the consequences of the courses of action is part of the strategy definition.

Exercise own company

For 5 topics from your company's value propositions, work out

  • their social media affinity
  • their user benefits
  • their suitable usage formats in social media
  • Meaningful participation opportunities for these topics
  • Motivation methods and structures that make sense for these topics
  • their performance competitors in social media
  • their attention competitors in social media

Describe your organization's courses of action for these topics.

Define which combination of user benefits, usage formats, motivation and participation structures can enable a leading competitive position.