5 Ways to Market Your Online Courses

5 Ways to Market Your Online Courses

So you’re a new online teacher and you’ve poured your heart and passion and all that knowledge you’ve been cultivating and pursuing over your life into an absolutely wonderful online course. You’ve set up your course outline, given your course a terrific title, written a carefully worded description of your course, and listed several learning outcomes written so the students know what they will be able to do once they’ve finished your course. You are all set to start teaching! So, how to find students?

I’ve learned a lot of what I know about marketing my courses from three sources:

1.) free classes and marketing courses on the WizIQ Virtual Classroom;

2.) watching what my colleagues in the International Society for Technology in Education Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments in Second Life do when they want to publicize their professional development classes, online teaching conferences, and social events for educators; and

3.) reading lots of really great articles, essays and blogs about “grass roots marketing.

The best advice is to use your own judgement about the methods you decide to try. Only you know who you are and what you express when you teach, so feel confident! Search through the advice that’s out there, and when something really clicks with you, give it a try. As you go along, keep an eye on what works and what doesn’t.

We live in a wonderful world of possibilities when it comes to outlets for grass roots marketing. When I was young … er … uh … back in the Dark Ages (ok, not that long ago), we had mimeographed flyers, poster boards and semi-permanent markers, the classified section of the local newspaper, and word of mouth. The last one worked very well if you were smart about who you talked to—even then there were people who were the human version of a well-subscribed-to social media network.  There were also bulletin boards at your local grocery stores, and sometimes in the neighborhood diner. But the options for grass roots marketing in the olden days really required a lot of leg work. These days such opportunities are just a click away.

1. Set Up Your Own Tube Channel

If you’re a serious online teacher, one of the best ways to showcase your work and also contribute to those who are likely to need your courses is to set up a YouTube Channel. A lot of the WizIQ bloggers—Jason Levin, Sylvia Guinan, and Nellie Deutsch among them—have done this to good advantage.

To get started, look for YouTube tutorials on how to set up your own channel, as well as tutorials on customizing your channel once you’ve set it up. Give some thought to how you want your online teaching identity to appear across the various marketing messages you produce. Usually that means choosing one photo for your banner for YouTube and Facebook, and a coordinating photo of yourself or your logo if you have one.  Once your channel is set up, it’s a good idea to record a channel trailer.

Don’t worry: you don’t have to put something together that’s very very polished. Your trailer just needs to express your unique personality and your enthusiasm about the subject you teach.  This is mine:

Later on when you have short videos that highlight what you teach, you can switch out your channel trailer and pop in some other video of yours that you want to feature on your page.

YouTube also allows you to connect your channel to your other social media accounts and your website and blogs.

When I’m marketing a course I do an introductory video about my upcoming course using Screencastomatic. In the introductory video, I record a tour of the new course syllabus and the classroom, pointing out important information like how to apply, what the cost and application deadlines are and otherwise encourage people to sign up. In the description for the YouTube video that results from my recording (Screencastomatic has really easy tools that convert your recording to a YouTube compatible format and upload your new video to your channel), I put in the link to the sign-up page for my course.

Now you have a video advertisement for your course that you can make good use of on the other marketing outlets you have found.

A word about branding: When you’re setting up your YouTube channel and beginning to establish an online presence for yourself as a teacher or for your teaching business, you need to think about branding. Here’s a YouTube video that does a good job of laying out the reasons why branding is just as important for a teacher getting the word out about his or her online courses as it is for a big corporation or a superstore. This is a good example of a person taking her own advice:

One of the things I did was choose a photo of myself that I hope shows that I’m open and accessible and somebody you might want as a teacher. Then I chose another photo and another possible banner illustration that used some of the colors from my main photo and/or was complimentary in color to my photo. You can see this on my YouTube channel, my public Facebook page, my public LinkedIn page, and on Twitter. It’s not perfect, but there’s a cohesiveness across my accounts that I hope makes people feel more comfortable as they explore my online stuff. And I hope that means that they feel comfortable enough to think about signing up for one of my online courses. If you Google Dr. Nellie Deutsch, Sylvia Guinan and Jason Levin’s Fluency MC you’ll see more examples of establishing your web-based presence into a brand.

2. Set Up a Facebook Page

If you haven’t already joined Facebook, when you’re ready to market your online course, you really should consider it. You might find that there are other more industry-specific social media sites that work better for you. Many people prefer LinkedIn, for example. I found that Facebook works really well for me.

I have a personal page and I have set my privacy settings so that only friends and friends of friends can see what I’m posting. But for my purposes, that’s enough. While I use Facebook to keep in touch with my family, I also use it to further my own education and to provide me with the opportunity to market my courses. I almost never say no to a friend request if the individual who is asking is friends with a half dozen or so of my friends or family, or if they belong to a special interest group to which I also belong.

The reason why I put having a YouTube channel in the first slot is that having those video tours of your courses or video tutorials on your area of expertise first gives you something to share when you want to recruit prospective students. When I’m happy with a new video on my upcoming courses, I share it on my personal wall on Facebook, on the walls of groups I have joined that include people I think might be interested in my courses, and on the pages I’ve set up for my business. I try to remember to always ask people to share my post, so that folks are encouraged to help me spread the word about my online courses as far and wide as possible. That’s direct marketing for my course. But indirect marketing is important too.

Social media sites make it easier to establish your expertise in the area in which you teach. That’s what I mean by indirect marketing: you’re not selling your course specifically, but you’re laying the groundwork so that when you have a course on offer, many people already know you.

Probably as important or more important is establishing who you are and what you offer is making a contribution to your subject matter area in particular or to online teaching in general. By doing that through social media you are not only making friends, bringing interesting articles to the attention of your colleagues, supporting other teachers and students in your area, but you are also expanding your own opportunities to keep on learning. Giving away some of who you are, some of what you know, helping out, being a productive and kind-hearted member of wider communities helps you to grow as a teacher. At the same time it may help to bring new students to your courses.

3. Set Up a Twitter Account

There are a lot of ways to use a Twitter account. When I first started, I set up my account only partially to establish my “brand” as an online educator. Primarily I was interested in learning about my industry, and I saw Twitter as a place to do that. I started following all kinds of individuals, associations, and newspapers that were known for posting links to useful information about higher education, online teaching, and other things in which I was interested. Eventually I started to tweet notifications of my teaching activities too.

Because YouTube allows you to put links to your other online activities on your YouTube channel, I added Twitter to the YouTube page. More recently I have connected Facebook to Twitter so that when I post a new video to my wall, it automatically crafts a quick notification for my Twitter feed. I have some followers on Twitter (about 1/10 of the number I follow—obtaining followers takes time for regular folks, so be patient!). Among them are several colleagues who re-tweet my announcements to their much larger list of followers for which I’m really grateful.

4. Set Up a Curation Account

ScoopIt! and other curation sites allow you pull together things you’re interested in and display them with your comments like a museum curator does. Like so many other types of social media, curation sites not only let you contribute to the global community of learners, but they also help you learn what you need to know.

So the fourth step I take in getting the word out about my online courses is to use my ScoopIt! account. To get started you set up a free account, fill in your profile, decide if you want to link your ScoopIt! site to other social media sites so that posts to ScoopIt! are announced automatically on Facebook or Twitter. Once you’ve picked a topic and set up the page, you can begin to add content. The result is an attractive display that looks like an online magazine.

There are two main ways to add content to your ScoopIt! page. You can manually add a direct link to an article, blog, website or YouTube video, or you can accept the suggestions that ScoopIt! finds for you by matching the keywords in your topic description to the ScoopIt! pages of your friends and colleagues as well as to materials that have been published on the internet. When you use the suggestion method, you can go out and read the materials being suggested and decide if they fit the purpose of your curation. If you decide you want to re-scoop the suggested material, the system gives you a chance to make a comment on the link you’re posting.

More important for marketing your online course is the manual way of adding to ScoopIt!. For example, I set up an umbrella category for the subject matter area into which my online courses fall. That’s where I post the links to my introductory video.

A slightly different group of people follow my ScoopIt pages than follow me on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, so using ScoopIt! is a way to expand my marketing reach.

As for learning, once I have manually uploaded the link to my course video, I also browse the suggestions ScoopIt! makes. Sometimes I find materials I can use in my online courses, as well as similar ScoopIt! pages from other folks. When I find things that are really useful on the ScoopIt! pages of my colleagues and friends, there’s a great button that lets me re-scoop the segment to my own page. Sharing and collaboration are great ways to learn and great ways to market as well!

5. Blog, Blog, Blog

Finally, more recently, I set up a blog to chart the journey I’m taking to learn what I need to know for a new course I’m planning.  My husband and I have provided mentoring to friends and colleagues who are non-native speakers of English for many years. Usually that has taken the form of helping them revise academic and scientific articles they hope to publish, or editing their conference PowerPoint presentations. We decided recently we would like to offer this service as a course.

As I become more qualified in a formal sense, and as I establish us as individuals who have something to offer to non-native speakers of English in academic and scientific disciplines, I decided to mark this journey with a blog, called English for Academics.

There are a couple of benefits to using a blog in this way. First, you are tasking yourself with an exercise in self-reflection that will help you remain authentically engaged in your own learning. Second, you are sharing your journey with people who can help you succeed in your quest. Those are your direct benefits of doing such a blog.

The indirect benefits are related to marketing the course that results from the journey. With a blog like this, you can slowly establish yourself as someone who cares deeply enough about a particular topic to want to become as prepared as possible to teach it. And when you begin to teach, you will have not only matured in your understanding of your subject matter and its techniques, you will have shown that you are probably someone who can successfully guide others. In addition, you can publicize your latest efforts on Facebook, Twitter, ScoopIt and elsewhere, not to mention tie your efforts to your YouTube channel and to the online courses you are already teaching through links on your blog roll.

Some Final Thoughts

Having a strategy isn’t all that’s needed, of course. Probably the most important thing to remember as you build your brand is that, unlike a superstore or a major corporation, your goal as an individual educator is to make sure your marketing is true to yourself.

There is an ethical component to all of this. Your goal is not to manipulate people into paying money for your courses, but to present yourself as someone who truly has something valuable to provide. What you are communicating is who you are, what you know, and how much you want to help those who can use what you have to teach. So while you should establish your web presence in a consistent and systematic way, you also need to do that consciously, authentically, and with self-reflection.

As teachers, I think we all feel this need to be authentic deep in our bones. Staying true to ourselves is not always easy though. It requires an enthusiasm for learning, a willingness to be taught, and a commitment to just keep trying.

How do you market your online courses? I would love to know, so do leave me comments below.


Dr. Nancy Zingrone has a PhD in psychology from the University of Edinburgh and an MSEd in Higher Education from Northern Illinois University. She is passionate about online education, having learned a significant amount of what she knows about teaching online from the incomparable Dr. Nellie Deutsch and the wonderful folks at WizIQ. Her work background includes more than twenty years in personal and individual differences research, publishing, higher education administration, and adult education.

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    Here is a hard question. Does anyone have a list of teachers who have achieved some success with online teaching?

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