5.0.1 Strategy definition Basics: Strategy priorities and strategy alternatives

Learning objective: Basics of developing strategy priorities and strategy alternatives.

Reading time: approx. 21 minutes

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

The initial situation

The starting point for our strategy definition is our

  • Corporate benefits that we can realize through social media for our business model and other corporate goals.
  • Topics and subject areas for which we define a social media strategy. For these topics, we know their priority for the company as well as the social media affinity of the topics / subject areas.
  • Social media options for action and their competitive quality, i.e., the assessment of what we can realize in competition with the respective social media option for action. The social media action options are available to us for the individual topics / subject areas and for all topics / subject areas.

Before we start defining the strategy, it is recommended to make sure that the initial situation is sufficiently stable. I. e. the

  • all parties involved are on the same level and have the same information.
  • There is agreement on the corporate benefits to be realized through social media.
  • there is agreement on the topics / subject areas for which a social media strategy is to be created.
  • the assessment of the company’s options for action – i.e., including priorities and social media affinities – there is also agreement.

Not only do we need a stable foundation for defining strategy alternatives, but we should also avoid changing these foundations in the course of strategy definition.

Strategic focus

We speak of a strategic focus when a strategy is geared to a focus, i.e. prioritizes a specific focus overall, predominantly or exclusively.

There are strategic focal points that are taken from the business strategy – for example, competitive orientation better or unique – or that can be freely designed for social media.

Social media-based strategic priorities are derived from the business benefits we want to realize and the goals of the strategy – that is, how we want to realize those business benefits.

The sense of strategic focus

In every company, resources are limited and not every competition can be freely designed and won. These simple facts make focusing a social media strategy advisable. It is better to succeed in fewer fields (topics) than to fail in all fields.

The development of strategies consists of choosing a certain goal and certain behavior and consciously deciding against other alternatives.

Definition of strategic priorities

Below, we address several strategic priorities. We treat each focus individually, but this does not mean that we cannot combine focuses. However, we should also be very strict about not overloading strategies here. Strategies from the category of the egg-laying willow are rarely promising success models and rather a clear indication that we could not bring ourselves to priorities and decisions.

Possible / obvious focal points for strategies can be found in the business model and competition.

  • Support of the business model / companyBenefits from social media for the business model
    • existing business model as a whole
    • Existing market / customer potential / customer segments
    • existing customer relationships
    • Company services / value propositions
    • existing channels of the business model
    • new business models
    • new markets / customer potential
    • new customer relations
    • new company services / value propositions
  • Competition
    • Utilization of all competitive opportunities (competitive positions
    • Utilization / securing of all competitive positions in topics with priority

Focus on business model

Social media strategies and business model

We support business models with the development of social media strategies. We are thus entering a field in which social media specialists are rarely at home. We have quite a bit of input on how to support the business model and company goals through social media through our courses of action. This input is largely based on the actual state of the business model, and we cannot assume that this actual state will apply in the long term.

In order to consider foreseen changes in the business model in a timely manner, we need input from the management on the priorities and focus of the social media strategy so that we can shape the future social media strategy in such a way that the business model and corporate goals are also supported in the best possible way in the future.

Your job is to request that input, not to develop it. They are seeking input from management to ensure that the social media strategy continues to best support the company’s success in the future. If you can’t give them that input, work out the social media strategy according to the courses of action at hand.

Focus on complete business model

In a business model-focused strategy, we align the strategy to maximize support for the entire business model.

At first glance, the decision to comprehensively support the company’s entire business model with social media seems self-evident. At second glance, this focus may be overkill for the company.

If we want to provide comprehensive support for the company’s entire business model, we must try to achieve the best possible competitive position in all of the company’s topics. Depending on the scope of the issues and the competitive situation, the task becomes so extensive that it cannot be realized with the company’s total available resources. For example, because the topics are so diverse due to a variety of customer segments and value propositions, and perhaps also different customer relationships or even channels, that not only do they not fit under one hat, but the number of hats required is almost impossible to represent.

Should the company’s management nevertheless insist on this approach, not only must a corresponding resource requirement be taken into account, but also a significant effort for the management of the social media strategy. There are companies that see more or less no alternative to this, such as groups of companies that serve both b2b and b2c markets in a variety of different regions and cultures with divergent needs.

In such situations, an approach in which the strategies are largely co-defined locally and the central authority focuses on strategic alignment and quality assurance (i.e., for example, key elements of the strategy and controlling of targets and budgets) has proven successful.

We can describe as a focused support of the complete business model the focus on high priority topics from all areas of the business model. This allows us to focus on the most important issues of the overall business model. We can extend this focus to include the social media affinity of topics. I.e. in this case we would focus on the topics of the complete business model, whose priority is high and whose social media affinity is expected for a high impact via social media. Our social media strategy becomes even more focused if, in addition to these criteria (priority and social media affinity of topics), we also take into account the possible competitive positions in these topics, i.e. focus our lower strategy on the topics that have high priority, high social media affinity and a possible leading competitive position.

These procedures apply both to existing business models and to new / changed business models.

Focus on business model modules

We can also align social media strategies to individual components of the business model. This can make sense for resource reasons as well as being part of a successive support of the business model through social media. In the latter case, we extend a social media strategy to support the individual business model modules. Here, however, we should derive the strategy from the perspective of the entire business model and make it modularly feasible. That means we develop a strategy that can support the entire business model and can be realized in a modular way. Examples of social media strategy with focus on individual business model modules:

  • Market / customer potential or customer segments: here we focused our strategy on the topics from this module of the business model. Of course, we can also focus the strategy here additionally via priorities, social media affinity and competitive situation.
  • Focus on customer relations: here we focus on the use of social media for the company’s customer relations. Depending on the company’s focus, the whole range of customer relations topics (all customer relations topics) or a focused strategy (priority topics, SMA) can be developed.
  • Focus on value propositions / company services: these strategy focuses use social media for the company’s products and services (alternatively, the company’s brand). Here, too, a focused strategy can make sense.
  • Business model channels focus: this strategy approach focuses on social media support for business model channels. Here, too, further focusing can make sense.

Note: the more the topics from the individual business model modules overlap, the more there is to be said for a social media strategy that encompasses the entire business model.

We know the requirements of the business model from the analysis for the options for action. The same applies to the fundamental requirements arising from the company’s objectives. We may have received further guidance from management on the strategic direction of our social media strategy in the form of additional corporate goals. We work these corporate goals into our courses of action in terms of content in the form of priorities (for the respective topics / subject areas) or additional topics with corresponding priorities.

Cultural context of strategies

Companies, like individuals, have typical behaviors. Some act offensively and perhaps even aggressively, others behave more cautiously, and still others react rather than act first.

With a strategy in social media that does not correspond to the fundamental behavior of the company or even clearly contradicts it, it is much more difficult to gain the necessary acceptance and support in the company. This does not mean, however, that a strategy that is more independent of typical behavior is generally not recommended. It is just significantly more demanding and difficult to implement and therefore also involves a higher risk.

If we orient ourselves – consciously or unconsciously – in our strategy development to the cultural context of the company, we run the risk of orienting ourselves too little to the market and too much to internal company behavior. A typical symptom or identifying feature of this is the “scissors in the head” recognizable by the preselection or avoidance of procedures that are culturally unworkable or difficult in the company.

Cultural contexts should not be underestimated, but they are primarily relevant to the implementation of strategies. It makes more sense to implement an innovative strategy and change the cultural context in the process than to develop a strategy that fits the cultural context and fall short of the possibilities.

Strategy alternatives

We use strategy alternatives to test the potential of different strategy approaches for the use of social media.

Justification of strategy alternatives

There are various justifications for the use of strategy alternatives

Different business goals

If social media enables valuable corporate goals that are not suitable for a common social media strategy and if it is not directly recognizable which corporate goals make more sense for the company – in the evaluation of benefits for the business model, market and competitive situation and resource requirements – the use of strategy alternatives is a way to find the solution that is more recommendable for the company as a whole, or to be able to offer equivalent alternatives for selection.

Different possibilities for action

Even with the same priorities in issues / topic areas, we may face different priorities for strategies, for example, because we value content of core strategy components differently. These can be different user benefits, usage formats, participation offerings or motivation systems or social media channels, which in themselves make sense and can be justified in terms of content, and for which it is not certain which approach promises to be clearly more successful.

Again, developing strategy alternatives can be a recommended approach, especially where significantly different content with corresponding implications is involved.

Sources of strategy alternatives

We design alternative strategies to examine different possible and reasonable courses of action or focus.

Our strategy alternatives are based on the priorities as well as the social media affinity of our topics and subject areas as well as the options for action for topics and subject areas and last but not least the company benefit.

The goal of developing strategy alternatives is to,

  • define individual promising strategy alternatives from options for action, priorities and strategic and non-strategic focal points,
  • Examine the content and impact of the strategy alternatives. To this end, we examine the effects, opportunities, and risks of the contents of the individual strategy alternative as well as the strategy alternative as a whole, and use these findings to evaluate the quality of the individual strategy alternative.
  • recommend the best possible strategy alternatives (management decision). The decision on a social media strategy is made by the management. Our task is to enable the management to make as well-founded a decision as possible. However, a real decision requires alternatives, i.e. strategy options.

Sources of possible strategy alternatives are

  • Corporate Goals / Corporate Benefits
  • Topics and subject areas
  • User benefit
  • Usage formats
  • Participation.
  • Motivation.
  • Social media channels
  • CorporateBenefits

Of course, strategy alternatives can also arise from combinations of these sources.

The following are some explanations and examples of the development of strategy alternatives from these sources.

Strategy alternatives from topics / subject areas

Strategy alternatives based on themes / topics are strategic in nature because themes represent potentials / markets.

For example, we could develop strategies for

  • elaborate all topics of business model and corporate goals. This has the advantage that we cover all topics that are more or less relevant for the company. However, this also has the risk that our strategy The advantage – we address all topics (and thus markets and target groups), leaving nothing out – is offset by the disadvantage of a possibly very high demand in terms of quantity and quality, as well as the risk that the strategy is not immediately convincing for the users in the case of a higher heterogeneity of topics.
  • Focus on topics with a specific priority. We focus on the topics that are particularly important for the success of the business model. With that, we don’t use other topics in social media.
  • Develop topics with high social media affinity. We focus on the topics that are particularly relevant in social media. This makes it easier for us to achieve an effect. Topics with low social media affinity promise less impact.
  • Develop topics with high competitive potential. We focus our strategy on the areas in which we are most likely to achieve competitive advantages because the competition is weak in these areas or does not take advantage of the opportunities available.

Of course, we can also combine these criteria accordingly, whereby each criterion naturally sharpens the strategy on the one hand, but also excludes topics. Strategy consists not least of the decision not to do something.

Strategy alternatives from the user benefit

We may be dealing with different meaningful user benefits. Firstly, because various attractive user benefits are still open – i.e. not used by the competition. Or because we are dealing with heterogeneous user groups that can only be successfully addressed via multiple user benefits. In the latter case, we are faced with the decision of whether we can agree on a user benefit and thus forego user groups but deploy a clear benefit that is attractive to all targeted users, or whether our strategy is double-tracked / multi-tracked and we thus address several user groups. In the latter case, we should also consider the risk that in this case we will not be sure to apply the appropriate UserBenefit for each user, and thus user groups will again not be reached.

In addition, we may be faced with the decision of deploying a UserBenefit that is easier for the company to realize and easier to copy, or deploying a more sophisticated UserBenefit that is harder for the company to realize but harder for the competition to copy or balance.

Strategy alternatives from the usage formats

If we can choose between different usage formats or combinations of usage formats, for example, if the topics of our strategy are suitable for both an audience and a community, it can be useful not to commit immediately, but to develop a strategy version for both alternatives that shows all the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. In particular, this prevents rash decisions for internal company reasons.

Strategy alternatives from participation

User engagement is a critical part of social media success. Depending on how we organize participation, the effort required can also vary considerably. The use of participation offerings depends both on the quality of the offering and here in particular on the concrete benefit from participation. We thus have corresponding requirements for other core strategy components (user benefits, motivation, channels) that help shape their content and from which various viable strategy alternatives can arise.

Strategy alternatives from motivation

The possible contents of the strategy component motivation can result in approaches for strategy alternatives, especially if we want to / can reward user involvement (participation) through motivation systems.

Strategy alternatives from the social media channels

The other core strategy components result in requirements for the social media channels, which can lead to different strategy versions consisting, for example, of different combinations of external and in-house social media channels. If, for example, we need social media channels from the usage format or participation with services that cannot be realized by external platforms, we are faced with the strategically relevant alternative of

  • to meet these requirements with their own platforms.
  • forego the usage format and its benefits, or set user participation at a lower level with less impact.

Strategy alternatives from the corporate benefit

Strategy alternatives from the company benefit can result from the situation that we cannot realize a certain company benefit with the recommended courses of action in the competitive situation, but this company benefit appears to be so important that it should not be taken out of the strategy development immediately, but a strategy alternative should be sought for it.

Evaluation of strategy alternatives

The evaluation/testing of strategy options is discussed in the section on Strategy Evaluation is dealt with.

Decision on strategy alternatives – Strategy decision

We present strategy alternatives that have withstood these tests and proved to be recommendable to management for decision. In doing so, we should take care to provide management with a clear decision-making template that makes the advantages and disadvantages as well as the consequences of the decision clear.

Practical use of strategy alternatives

Although it is tempting to circumvent problems with priorities via strategy versions, the effort involved in using strategy alternatives is a good reason to consider the need for strategy alternatives first before developing them. Strategy alternatives are useful and valuable where they promise recognizable benefits.

In practical use, we treat the development of strategy alternatives like the development of strategies, i.e. processes and procedures are the same, and are therefore not explained again separately.

Non-strategic strategy alternatives

Rationale for non-strategic strategy alternatives

In addition to the strategically based strategy alternatives mentioned above, strategy alternatives can also result from different priorities and preferences of the areas involved in strategy development and from different courses of action or from a combination of both factors.

The purpose of these strategy alternatives is to identify, based on their development, what consequences result from a particular focus or content of a strategy. This approach can make sense, but it significantly increases the amount of work involved in strategy development and thus delays the development of a social media strategy.

Developing strategy alternatives in order to completely shift decisions – in this case to the management, which then has to decide on strategy alternatives – is not a recommendable approach but rather a sign of a lack of competence or enforcement.

Horizontal and vertical interactions

Strategy definition in social media is also challenging because we have pronounced horizontal and vertical interactions. Here to memory these interactions once again explained.

  • Horizontal interactions: the interactions between the individual strategy components. In other words, how the goals and contents of the strategy components – especially the core strategy components – affect each other. For example, how the decision for a usage format affects other strategy components such as participation, user benefits, social media channels, communication, reach, etc. and what impact these interactions have on the success of the overall strategy. If we make decisions without taking these interactions into account, this can have a very negative impact on the success of a strategy. You learned about these interactions in the Strategy Components module.
  • Vertical interactions: the interactions of corporate benefits with other strategy components represent the vertical interactions. If we want to realize a corporate benefit for our business model, which is based on the prerequisite of a usage format, for example, the corporate benefit therefore places requirements on the content of the usage formats strategy component. However, these interactions go both ways. The performance potential of the usage format enables or limits – depending on the usage format – the possible business benefit. We should not ignore these interactions when defining strategy, otherwise we will develop strategies that fall short of their potential performance or are crippled in their competitive quality. You have identified these interactions in the context of social media performance potential.

Conflicts and controversies

  • Conflicts: different goals and priorities
  • Controversies: conflicting goals and priorities

In the course of strategy development, conflicts and controversies are to be expected for structural reasons, which can have a direct impact on strategy development and its outcome.

Causes of conflicts and controversies

The silos of market cultivation

Market cultivation by companies takes place through different functional areas. For example, we encounter areas that focus on

  • Development of products and service areas
  • Sales and distribution
  • Customer service and support
  • Marketing, market communication

focus. In reality, market development in these areas takes place more or less in parallel and in a more or less coordinated manner. We therefore also speak of functional silos that act in parallel and more or less coordinated.

Even though uncoordinated or poorly coordinated market cultivation is problematic in itself, this approach has not yet had such a negative impact that it is being largely changed. Consumers are more or less used to being addressed at different times with different targets via different channels.

Social media channels and attention

Companies that use social media need their own social media channels even if they are built within external social media platforms. If companies act in social media with the same approach as before in a parallel market cultivation, social media users from different functional areas with different objectives would be addressed simultaneously or with a time lag. In practice, this can lead to undesirable consequences, the cause of which is explained below.

  • The benefit of a social media channel lies in its active reach, i.e. the users we actually reach via the channel.
  • The attention users pay to a social media channel depends on the relevance of that channel’s content.
  • Whether content on a channel is relevant to a user depends on the user’s current needs, which can vary within a short period of time. Even fundamentally relevant content can have different relevance at different times. For example, if something fundamentally interests us but is not an issue at the moment, that content is less relevant.
  • If different functional areas with different content focuses share the same social media channel, this increases the likelihood of less relevant to irrelevant content. The attention of social media users to this channel inevitably suffers.
  • If different functional areas use their own channels, this increases the company’s social media channels for users and multiplies the resources required for the company to build up and keep up to date its reach.

In the potential-based strategy model, we organize market development across functional areas based on themes. These topics may be cross-functional and/or function-specific. Since reach is built and kept current through these topics, we are less likely to lose attention and activity due to irrelevant content.

Because functional areas do not have “function-owned” reaches in this approach – topic-based, cross-functional reaches – the risk of incompatible reach use is reduced. However, the functional areas still want to see their goals adequately represented in the shared social media channels. The latter is potentially a permanent source of conflict.

We operate with social media in existing corporate structures, which are shaped not least by the importance of the individual functional areas. Social media impacts all functional areas. As a result, every functional area that can benefit from social media or is even increasingly dependent on social media strives to get its own piece of social media, i.e., strives for its own social media strategy with its own social media infrastructure. In other words, the silo structure of the company’s market cultivation is being transferred to social media. Not only does this do little to enhance the company’s appeal and success on social media, but as mentioned, it only multiplies the effort required to use social media.

For social media management, this situation and the function as “owner” of the social media channels results in the task of processing the topics of the channels in such a way that all desired corporate benefits are adequately supported / achieved by social media, and the company does not drive away social media users with a multitude of social media channels that is irrelevant and irritating for the users.

For our social media strategy development, this means that we have to keep silo behavior out of social media and place social media requirements above the wishes of the functional areas. This is also a stable source of permanent conflict.

Power and budgets

Social media requires its own resources. These resources come at the expense of other functional areas. Don’t expect enthusiasm among functional areas to sacrifice funds and staff in favor of social media. It is more likely that the individual functional areas will try to take over the social media function in order to avoid giving up resources and personnel and having to rely on another functional area for their work.

In practice, this has led to social media becoming part of marketing in many companies and consequently acting more or less as an executor of marketing communication with a social media look.

From the company’s point of view, this development is an aberration that either leads to social media being reduced to the function of marketing communication in social media (social media marketing), with other functions benefiting less or not at all from social media, or to the functional area of marketing being overburdened by the holistic use of social media.

The development of a holistic social media strategy that is aligned with the potential of social media and the benefits of social media for the entire business model makes this misguided development clearer. At the same time, it is an approach to put the use of social media on a broader basis for the benefit of the entire company.

For social media management, this presents a dual opportunity and challenge.

For practice You are more likely to meet this challenge if you design a social media strategy that addresses the entire business model – and therefore all functional areas. This inevitably results in a corresponding position for social media in the company.