The Circle of "Huh?" is the place all products, services and brands begin. It's where 9 out of 10 normal people don't know, don't care. What normal people? People not involved with the specific niche nor the marketers wanting to take advantage of it.
Once the product starts to reach a few people outside of its initial niche audience -- geeks, freaks, and nerd wanna-be's -- it enters The Circle of "Uhhh...". This is where people see something they like or appreciate at an instinctual level but they're not sure about the what, how, and why. There's a sense of confusion, of uncertainty, about what the thing does and why anyone would want to use it anyway ("who in the world would share all their personal crap online!").
Finally the product will enter The Circle of "Duh!" where everyone and their brother holds the product's purpose and value as self-evident and possession or use of it as natural.
Set Up In The Circle Of "Uhhh..."
Once an online service -- Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest -- appears on your radar, the product has almost certainly entered the Circle Of "Uhhh...". It has evidently acquired enough fans besides the initial geeks to be broadcast, to be talked about.
Your reaction will be appropriate to that of The Circle Of "Uhhh...". You see what the product does but why you or others would use it isn't perfectly clear. Or, if you understand why others use it, it's not clear why and how you would use it for your purposes. Clearly this Internet thing is going to be big but how to use it to grow your business?
This is the time to establish your presence, to stake your claim. Opening an account to have your username in place usually takes minutes. The initial investment is virtually nil, no matter how high your or your employee's hourly wages.
The time of The Circle Of "Uhhh..." sees others like you arrive too. Some -- especially journalists and other media people -- will check whether the usual folks and brands are on board. Having just your username in place is therefor not good enough; it would be bad branding.
Spent some time upfront filling out the account's profile. Again, this is usually so fast to do that the investment is a no-brainer.
Check notification settings. Prepare appropriate email filters so these messages get routed to the right person and are labeled or filed in such a way that they don't clutter regular email communication. Add relevant feeds from the account to your feed reader. If needed, set up Google Alerts. While you won't be actively using this account you have to "be there" which means that you have to be responsive when needed.
With that done, invest 10-15 minutes building out some initial property. Add some content. Queue it if possible so you can drip feed it. Prepare it if needed.
You can now use the channel when you want to or if you need to.
A channel where you simply have a stake claimed out shouldn't take more than a few minutes per week (or even month) to go in and post something sensible. Why so short? Because there's usually more than one secondary channel and adding time up for each of them, well, adds up. Ideally, given labor costs of about CAD $30/hour [in USD], you will want to spend maybe an hour per 4 weeks on all secondary channels combined. You show up once in a while but you don't stay.
Camp In The Circle Of "Duh!"
You'll know when a service has arrived in The Circle Of "Duh!": everybody talks about it, everybody uses it. It's email, it's Facebook -- hell, it's the Internet.
This is when you set up camp on your claim. You show up regularly because this is now part of your real estate. You may not live here but folks know that if you wait long enough, this is where you'll be.
The service now becomes a primary channel and so your investment in it goes up. The size of your business, the number of employees, the industry you're in, your marketing and outreach budget; all these come into play in determining exactly how many resources you want to put toward a channel but in general you're looking at an absolute minimum of 1 hour per month per primary channel to maintain some sort of presence. A realistic expectation that looks at channel first and availability of resources second will see you put 15-20 minutes per business day toward a primary channel.
Live At Home
The overruling question when determining what to do where should be "is this mine?". Your business is. Your web site is. Facebook isn't.
Make sure there's a clear trail from your camp site back to your home base, back to your web site, to your company. Publish the best content on your site and post the status update about it elsewhere, not the other way around. Talk on social networks but have the best discussions on your blog.
Time-wise that means you should be treat your web site as a primary channel and go for at least 1 hour per week.
- By the time you wonder "should I be on...", you should. Open an account and stake out your claim.
- Invest no more than 1 work hour per month on all your secondary "should I?" channels combined. CAD $30/month [in USD] is both peanuts for long term potential marketing investment and "good enough" for a secondary channel you don't know the ROI from.
- When a service has become popular enough to feel ubiquitous, set up camp.
- Count on at least 1 hour per month per primary channel; 1-1.5 hour a week is more realistic for primary channels you build a strong presence in. CAD $30-180/month for a branding and/or lead generation channel is not bad.
- Don't lose focus: invest in your own web site first, giving it 1 hour/week consistently