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How to build an audience for your online course

Online courses are very popular these days. One can learn almost anything online whether it is for work or leisure. Some of the most prestigious universities have made their own courses available on the web and those interested can actually get a top college education in their homes – without earning a degree though.

With so much content already available, selling your own online course can be a really tricky business – even if you have all the knowledge and a highly qualitative product, odds are it will not sell itself. There are important steps you need to take before the course is even ready. I know all you learning perfectionists think you have to get everything figured out before even attempting a pitch to anybody but that’s not the way the cookie crumbles in this business.

Of cookies and online courses

Speaking of cookies, they are awesome. Everybody loves a cookie. However, if you just present people with a plate full of the tasty, sugary things you may find that only a few will indulge – those who happen to be hungry or really in the mood for a cookie just then.

Build up an appetite for them by talking about wonderful treats, asking people what kind they prefer and maybe even let some of that delicious smell make it out of the kitchen and you will surely end up with an empty plate as soon as you present it.

It’s the same with online courses. Everybody wants to learn, become better and get quality information but you need to build up a specific audience for what you are designing. It may prove to be a bit time consuming but it's definitely well worth it. Here are the first things to cover:

Know your audience

If you are creating online courses, you probably have some experience with teaching adults and you know how important it is to know who you will be addressing. So step one in building the desired audience is to figure out who they are – what demographic they are part of, what do they best respond to, what they need and what they expect from a web-based learning experience.

A lot of this process has to do with imagination but it’s important to also do some research. Since giving out questionnaires and making sense of the answers in a relevant way is both very time consuming and difficult, it’s best to seek what professionals in the field have to say. Sociologists manage to map out the collective mind and give valuable insights into large groups of people.

Find your unique selling point

The main reason for not having the whole thing ready before thinking of how to sell it is that unless your course is about some new, revolutionary, never before heard of theory, there are probably a lot of courses on that exact same subject already on the market. So it is crucial to take a good look at the competition and develop a unique selling point (USP), something that will make people choose your course over any other.

When presented with a number of choices, people will go with what seems to have the edge. It’s not compulsory to come up with something entirely new but you need to find something that will be significantly differentiating from all the other courses – it can be the approach, the tone of voice, your own experience or the validation of a subject matter expert.

Forge a title and a description

Once you know both who you are speaking to and what your main differentiator is, it is time to forge a witty and catchy title for your course. Unlike with finding your USP where the aim was to come up with something unique, the title should contain the most relevant words users type when searching for information on a certain topic. Again, some research is necessary to figure out what exactly will put your module at the top of the list.

When that is accomplished, a good description of the material should be added – one that will make very clear what the objectives of the course are and what specific problems it is aimed at solving. The description needs to show potential customers what’s in it for them if they purchase and take the course.

Take it all to social media

Over 40% of the world’s population are active on social media. These networks influence 74% of buying decisions and 88% of consumers trust online reviews. There are a lot more numbers where those came from but I think I’ve made my point. If you want people to know about your product, you need to put it out there.


Facebook and Twitter are the first obvious choices but if you are going for visual impact (and you should), Instagram is your venue. If your subject is of interest to professionals in a certain field, LinkedIn and SlideShare are great places to post and make it known.

The point is to go wherever your audience is and know that even though conversion rates may not be great, it’s the best way to build awareness about what you are selling.

Bring them back to a landing page

The profiles on social media may be built only to let people know about the course but it’s very important to have at least a landing page that the interested parties can go to for more information.

You can include a detailed description, have a section about yourself and why you have knowledge in the field and you can even create a blog with interesting articles either on the main or adjacent topics. Even if the product is not yet ready, you can offer some sort of future incentive for those who are interested – this can be either a substantial discount or even the entire course for free for a number of people.

Make sure that the landing page looks professional and is both engaging and intuitive or else interest will be lost and all the effort of going through the previous steps will have been in vain.

Build an audience for your course

This recipe for success may seem a bit long and time consuming but it’s just like baking – after you have done it a couple of times you gain both experience and confidence and the tasty batches just keep coming out of the oven looking delicious and being snatched off almost immediately.

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