3.5 Social media options Participation

Learning Objective: know and apply the derivation of courses of action for participation opportunities.

Reading time: approx. 14 minutes

This section covers the basics and methodical application of action options for user participation opportunities within a social media strategy. The practical application and the exercise of practical application take place in the derivation of the options for action for markets, for business models, competition and corporate goals.

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


Derivation of the options for action

We derive the courses of action via the following areas and in this order:

  • Subject areas: with this we define in which markets / sub-areas of the markets we operate with social media.
  • UserBenefits: we decide on one or more UserBenefits that we generate through our social media strategy. UserBenefit creates the appeal of our social media strategy.
  • Usage formats: this defines the usage formats with which we want to operate in the selected markets. The usage formats used have a far-reaching influence on the competitiveness of a strategy because they define the performance of the social media offerings.
  • Participation: by involving social media users, we achieve significantly more impact – as long as the participation also pays off in terms of the desired effect. What we should secure through our strategy.
  • Motivation: Through motivation, we ensure the use of our social media offerings and, through this, the desired effect. Depending on suitability, we can motivate individually and situationally or use comprehensive motivational structures to turn this component of our strategy into a competitive advantage.
  • Social media channels: The social media channels we use are the connections to our users and therefore indispensable. Since they also represent the technical basis of our strategy, they have a direct influence. We make sure that we align our strategy with the potential of markets and social media and adapt the use of the channels to the strategy instead of aligning the strategy with the channels used.

Importance of participation

strategic importance

Participation scales the success of our social media offering and, in turn, the company’s success with social media. Strategically deployed investment opportunities can create competitive advantages. User involvement/participation is a lever that takes the impact of social media strategy to a new level. In addition to the impact of the company resources invested, user participation – corresponding to its nature – affects the success of the social media strategy. Depending on the form and scope of participation, it affects the success of the strategy. Not least for this reason, it is advisable to use this success factor very carefully.

If we use the possibilities of user participation in a limited way and defined by other components of the strategy, the leverage with which our strategy is supported is significantly lower.

Strategic insights for our strategy development

From the options for action for participation, we can derive strategic insights for the design of participation offerings within our own strategy and thus directly shape the competitiveness and economic success of our company in and with social media.

  • Participation can be basically adhoc, regular or permanent. We should take advantage of every opportunity. The higher the value of participation, the less frequently it will be used. For this, the effect of higher-value participation is all the more valuable and important for the social media offering.
  • Because of their importance, higher-value participation offerings should be supported with appropriate motivational tools.
  • Participation increases the time spent in a social media offering. This makes this offer more interesting for users – because more active – and deprives the competition of possible attention, support and, of course, time for participation there.
  • For participation to take place, it must be meaningful for the user, i.e. it must provide an additional benefit that is relevant to him or her. The classic user benefit of the social media offering is not necessarily sufficient for participation. Especially for a higher form of participation, a corresponding additional benefit / motivation is recommended.
  • Participation can be facilitated in a spontaneous or organized way, or in an integrated way. The design of participation opportunities must be correspondingly broad and meaningful.
  • Participation is a proven way to generate activity, but also to tap into the resource of social media.
  • We can differentiate ourselves from other competitive offerings through participation offerings.

practical importance

We define user engagement opportunities as part of our social media strategy. These user participation offerings require appropriate management of their use. Firstly, to ensure the quality of use, especially with regard to the functions of user participation, and secondly, to ensure and manage the benefits that users and companies derive from participation.

Definition of participation offerings

In order to develop participation offerings, we are guided by these criteria in the potential-based strategy model (pbsm)

  • Theme orientation: the participation offering takes place in the context of a theme. It is therefore helpful if the theme is also reflected in the participation offering.
  • UserBenefit: User participation should result in a benefit for that user. Otherwise, the participation is lower or completely cancelled. The benefits of participation should be oriented quite pragmatically to the user benefits of our strategy. Otherwise, we would have to provide two independent user benefits. It goes without saying that the benefits of participation should be immediately apparent.
  • External effect / network effect: a participation offer that has an effect on the social networks of social media users is more recommendable than an offer that does not.
  • Corporate benefit: last but not least, it is nice if the participation by the users serves a corporate benefit. However, we should prioritize the benefits of participation offerings in terms of the benefits for the user. At a rate of 10% of 100, you get more than at 100% of 0.

Evaluation of participation offers

Not every investment offer is of the same quality. Spontaneous, one-time participation is significantly less effective than a systematic, permanent offer. However, the latter is also much more difficult to achieve and rarer.

In order to assess participation opportunities, we use the following criteria

  • Scope and duration: is it a one-time, short engagement in the form of a click or a longer or more comprehensive participation of an individual or organized nature.
  • Reach and impact: does the engagement have an impact on other social media users and what is the quality of that impact. Is it a briefly perceptible signal without direct relevance for other users or is it an important and valuable service for other users.

The quality of our participation offerings – or more precisely, their use – is a competitive factor. We thus achieve a higher impact in social media – and ultimately, beyond the competitive advantage, a potentially higher contribution of social media to the company’s success.

Participation and user benefits

It is not very advisable to develop participation offers that do not bring any benefit to the targeted users. They are bound to fail. Unfortunately, this self-evident fact is not always sufficiently taken into account.

When developing your participation offers, pay attention to a quickly / immediately recognizable and attractive user benefit and your participation offer will most likely be significantly more successful.

If you succeed in designing the UserBenefit with a social component – i.e. to use a UserBenefit that grows with the participation of further users (from the networks of the addressed users), this will have an even more positive effect on the distribution and use of your offer.

Starting points for social components are, for example, networking with others (and the benefits that can result), self-expression, or support for projects that are considered meaningful.

A second dimension of user utility related to the development of participation offerings for a social media strategy is the selection effect of user utility. Users respond to a benefit that speaks to their interests. Depending on which benefit we offer to users, we reach prospects with interest in that benefit. Thus, we do not only address users via the UserBenefit, but possibly exclude other users because our UserBenefit does not correspond to their interests. We solve this problem by orienting our user benefits very strictly to the theme.

Participation and motivation

Meaningful participation offers that provide users with a recognizable benefit are good and valuable. If the use of these offers is combined with additional motivation, this increases the attractiveness of the participation offer and the expected success. Therefore, when developing your participation offerings, make sure to use motivational methods such as motivational structures wherever it makes sense to do so.

Participation and corporate benefits

User participation in and in our social media strategy should necessarily lead to a benefit for the company. This corporate benefit can come through economic value creation – for example, through savings from forum support or users taking over customer service functions – or through the dissemination of content or the consolidation of customer relationships through other customers. It is essential that we do not neglect the benefits for the company when developing participation offerings. Or we run the risk of foregoing a valuable and effective tool.

Participation and competition

User participation in social media offerings changes their performance potential and, more importantly, their competitive performance.

  • We achieve more attention and participation through user involvement. Most importantly, we are significantly changing the competitiveness of the strategy.
  • We engage users with our social media strategy and its components. This includes not only users with an interest in our corporate services, but also users with an interest in the user benefits that the participation offerings of our social media strategy address. This allows us – via the corresponding user benefit – to also reach social media users who are not from our customer base.

Participation and social media channels

Participation must not only be desired but also made possible. Here we come to the reality of participation. Depending on which social media channels we use and how, we enable or limit the potential of participation, i.e., the success possible with it.

The technical and conceptual possibilities offered to us in external social media channels such as Facebook or Instagram correspond to the ideas and business model of the channel operators and enable not what seems possible but what seems necessary for the channel operators.

If we want more in the way of participation and support from social media users, we need to take action ourselves. The alternatives are

  • our own social media channels: this gives us design authority and allows us to implement all the participation offerings we want. Of course, to do this, we need to build the reach of these channels. However, we also have to do that in the external platforms.
  • combined use of external and our own social media channels: we use the major external platforms as outposts of our own social media channels. This requires a well thought-out communication concept and corresponding discipline and consistency in implementation.

Summary of participation for all topics

User participation scales successes. If it takes place. For it to take place, it must be part of the social media strategy and its offerings, which means it must also be present in the channels in technology. Participation that convinces is based on user benefits. If our users benefit from activities that are recognizable and attractive to them, they are more likely to be active. This is a rather simple consideration, which is contrasted by how little this consideration is reflected in practice. Beyond commenting, sharing and liking, participation opportunities are often absent. Expecting special results from average performance and offerings is more than over-optimism.

Benefits of participation: For users to participate, we need to provide not only the opportunity to participate but also the reason to participate. I will only share content if I see value in it for others, for example. If our offering is not useful or the benefits are not apparent, participation will be significantly minimized or not occur. With the type of participation we enable, we also determine – and limit – the participation itself and the benefits we can derive from it. If we understand participation as only situational and spontaneous, we miss out on more sustained and comprehensive support (and successes).

In order for the company’s benefits from social media user engagement and participation to be as comprehensive as social media and our issues allow, a broader view of participation and the appropriate design of social media strategy is required. Regardless of whether we are working with an audience or a community – the question of what type and scope of participation we want to tap into should be answered and designed at the outset, in a fundamental and potential-oriented manner. Otherwise, we are very likely to fall short of the available opportunities.

Spontaneous participation: If we enable users to participate spontaneously – and without further requirements – we can tap into the support that our users are spontaneously willing to provide. Spontaneous participation can take place very broadly and have enormous impact, but it is also over very quickly and tends to rarely lead to relationship building and sustained support. Which does not mean that we should do without them.

Motivation to participate: if we motivate users to participate – in a way that is attractive to the users – we use a lever that can spur participation. Motivation to get involved can be in a benefit in a personal external effect – for example, one’s own circle of friends – or a benefit from an internal effect – for example, empowerment.

Organized participation: Organized user participation is rare, but not exceptional. It is limited by the suitability of the topics, but more often by the limitation of the social media strategy. If we compare the extent of spontaneous participation with organized participation, we typically see a higher number of users participating to a low extent in spontaneous participation, and a much lower number of users participating to a high extent in organized participation. The question of which form enables better results can only be answered by the individual situation, but we should never forget that with relatively small user volumes and a high level of commitment, considerable to surprising things are possible. Remember that Wikipedia is run by relatively few but reaches and supports millions and millions every day, and most importantly, completely changes an industry. Wikipedia’s approach is definitely not limited to encyclopedias.

Problems and decisions

The problem of the performance of external social media channels for user participation: Participation requires technical features in the social media channels we want to use. Not all social media channels enable all types of participation. On the contrary. Mostly, the user is only offered the classic 3 – like, comment, share. In the contrast between the requirements of participation and the performance of the channels, potential market successes will be lost if we do not succeed in balancing the contrast to such an extent that we can generate advantages over the competition from the participation of social media users. This compensation must, of course, be technically sound. Designing social media channels and functions that work together can help resolve this dichotomy. The fact that this is not easy makes these solutions more valuable and at the same time more difficult to copy.

The management of participation: Organized user participation needs to be organized. This means that it is necessary to get involved in the organization of the users beyond the provision of functions – for example in the form of volunteer management. This requires both a set of user management functions and a sound knowledge of volunteer management. If one of these areas is missing, organized user participation will not only be less organized but, more importantly, much less successful. A clear benefit for the company then quickly becomes a source of problems.


Work steps

  • Step 1: we summarize participation offerings that appear suitable for the topics / thematic areas of our strategy.
  • Step 2 we record the participation offers with the best impact (including sustainability of the impact). We examine which participation offers enable us to achieve the best effect in competition and how sustainable / lasting this effect is to be assessed.
  • Step 3: we define the investment offers with the best support of business model and company goals


  • Market Responsible
  • Person responsible for customer relations
  • Responsibility: Social Media Management
  • In case of impact on the business model: Persons responsible for the business model
Work step 1

From the previous processes, we have a list of topics / subject areas that we want to address with our social media strategy. We describe the

  • recommendable possible participation offers
  • Participation offers available on the market

for these topics / subject areas. Source: Research on the net. This allows us to identify potentially meaningful but underutilized participation opportunities. This can result in competitive advantages.

Work step 2

We examine the quality of the individual participation offerings to determine which participation offerings enable us to achieve the best effect in competition and how sustainable / lasting this effect is to be assessed. Source: own analysis.

Work step 3

We define the investment opportunities with the best performance potential – measured in terms of competitiveness and support for business model and corporate goals. Source: own analysis.


We perform this analysis for the individual topics and subject areas and then summarize them. This gives us an overview of which topics and subject areas we can secure through participation and to what extent. This shows us not only the competitiveness of our participation offerings but in particular the options for action for our social media strategy for the use of participation.

Process result

Action items for our social media strategy for using participation.

Use of the result

The result is a basis for deriving the social media strategy, especially for the strategy component participation.

Work Templates

Below is an example of a simple outline of participation action options for different topics/issue areas that you can adapt to your own needs.

Explanation Work Template Participation – Theme Area

  • Topic area: we note the topic area we are addressing with our social media strategy.
  • Prio: we record here the priority of the individual subject area.
  • SMA: here we note the social media affinity of the topic.
  • Participation offerings in the market: here we record the participation offerings found in the market in the respective topic areas, i.e. all participation offerings offered to social media users within the respective topic area.
  • existing positions: Participation offers that are used by the competition.
  • Open positions: unused participation opportunities that make sense for the user as well as for the company.
  • Options for action: here we note which options for action arise in the participation opportunities in the respective topic area.
  • Evaluation of the options for action: we note the assessment of the impact and importance of the respective options for action for the topic area.

Exercise Options for action Participation

  • Describe possible viable participation offerings for your company.
  • Describe the competitive situation of performance and attention competitors in the field of participation offerings.
  • Describe the user benefits from your participation offerings.
  • Describe the company benefits from your participation offerings.
  • Describe the competitive impact from their participation offerings.
  • Describe the social media chawl requirements from their participation offerings.
  • Describe the use of social media resources from your equity offerings.