How I Created a Ghost Town on the Web

by · March 27, 20128 comments

One of the most satisfying experiences is having a website take off in popularity.

People are linking to you and sharing your stuff, responding to your emails, spending time and leaving comments, and in some cases opening their wallets.

It’s a love train of feel-good moments, back-patting, fist bumps and fist pumps.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of this a few times.


Image by Allie Caulfield

But I’ve also been on the other side of the proverbial digital media tracks. In the area where you roll your windows up, put your head down and wait for it to be over. In a ghost town on the web.

It happened again on a recent lark of a side project where I didn’t take my own advice and ended up making some stupid mistakes.

Fueled (and blinded) by my own idea, I killed my last blog before it truly had a chance to live. Here are the lessons I learned:

I made decisions too quickly, and didn’t think about their long-term impact. Fools rush in and I was right behind.  It’s best to map out ideas, wireframe concepts, storyboard the user experience and think logically about your approach.

I underestimated the amount of resources it would require. Building digital traction takes and patience. I put too much emphasis on launching and not enough on the marathon march that comes after. With a broad market to cover, I quickly became overwhelmed with trying to keep up with posting and coverage was a mile wide and an inch deep. No one was visiting because:

I failed to identify a niche. Success stories usually stem from people who looked to solve something very specific. Where they identified a niche, guarded and served it.

I jumped into a fast-growing market without thinking specifically about what the angle and voice would be. (list examples of sites that do this well). In today’s climate it’s “the nicher the richer.”

I focused on technological functionality, not content. It’s easy to buy a domain, install WordPress and a fancy theme, set up an email program and create social media profiles.

That’s because these are the known knowns. The things that are straight forward and come with instructions. The kind of things anyone can do, technically speaking. But there’s a difference between a digital presence and a digital footprint – the footprint actually leaves an impact, and takes time to develop.

I didn’t give it a face. And it had no unique brand qualities. I didn’t put my face on it and I didn’t associate myself (or any individual human) with it. People like to know who they are hearing from. The “voice of God” is dead in journalism and that is especially true online. The social media revolution was built on the idea that people want to connect with people. Trying to invent a brand out of the ether – especially one that people will connect with – is a tough exercise.

I focused too much on structure, not enough on content. Too much on the launch, not enough on the carrying-through. I didn’t have a unique perspective and I didn’t act human.

And I ended up creating just another ghost town on the web.

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About Andrew Hanelly

Andrew Hanelly

Andrew is SVP, Strategy for McMurry/TMG and for one semester in college, was a sociology major. He writes at Brain on Digital, as @hanelly on Twitter and here on Google+.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • EDM Machines

    Everytime… What is your message and how can you help someone else. Been there too bud. Fear not, ruts happen, but experience is hard to beat once you realize the mistake.

  • andreacook

    It takes a big man to admit his failures. Refreshing. Much appreciated. I wonder how many other players out there have developed a ghost town or two.  

  • Jon Loomer

    Awesome. We can learn from failures as much as — if not more than — successes. Yet all we read about is “How to succeed like I did.” Great insight.

    • Andrew Hanelly

      I think it’s totally worth launching side projects just to test things out and to have “soft failures” – the kind that only matter to your ego. Thanks for the comment, Jon.

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