Rethinking Online Course Marketing: Build a Tribe in Six Steps

Written By

Jeremy Vest

February 16, 2010

What’s the very best way to sell online courses? The very best way is to partner with great distribution sales channels. The second best way is to create a loyal tribe.

Let’s face it: traditional marketing is failing most colleges and online course creators. Newspaper, magazine, radio, and TV just don’t work like they used to, unless you have an almost endless marketing budget. At the same time, in today’s online world, you have to stand out and become a perceived thought leader. It’s no longer about selling courses, but about being the best, that matters. People are too informed to pick a course or program without researching it.

In this article, I show you my thoughts about creating online course marketing that seems to work, without spending tons of money.  Please note, though, that if you are looking to sell online courses without building your brand and reputation, this article is not for you. If you don’t have an endless marketing budget, and are willing to work hard to sell your courses, this article will be worth the read.

There are six steps that will help you create a loyal tribe, which is the key to being known as “The Best”:

  • Rethink sales
  • You are the best at something. Embrace it.
  • Distribute articles
  • Make your courses Search Engine Optimized
  • Do social media the right way
  • Build a tribe

Step 1: Rethink Sales

Don’t sell. Be a matchmaker.

Building relationships is the best long-term way to keep customers happy and coming back. This is a time-tested proven fact, but some of us think about selling courses before we think how the course could improve someone’s life. Instead of thinking about enrollments as “sells,” I suggest you think of yourself as a matchmaker. After all, the purpose of creating courses is to teach people what they do not already know. If you start looking at your sales as a tool to help people change their lives, rather than to just make money, the mental shift of Web 2.0 thinking will start to happen in your organization.

You must make your sales funnel as big as possible

Students are educated these days. A TV, radio, or newspaper ad will not convince potential students to purchase your product, so rather then sending your leads to a Buy Now page, what if you sent them to a page where they receive a free mini-course? This course will show them why your program is the best. You cannot simply tell people that you’re the best and have them believe it, they must come to that conclusion on their own. How many people would give you an e-mail address to take a no-risk free mini-course, compared to the number who would purchase the course without seeing the product?

Step 2: You ARE the best at something. Embrace it.

One of the best ways to stand out from your competition is to embrace what you are best at. Once you figure out what course or learning approach you do better or different than anyone else, you need to write captivating articles about your approach. If you want to be the best, you need people to understand and know why you are the best. The more articles you write, the more you are involved with every major event, Website, community, and person involving said topic, the more likely it is that you will become the perceived thought leader for this topic.

But be warned, you can’t just say you do something better or different unless you really do.

Step 3: Distribute articles

One of the best ways to have people hear you is to shout from the rooftops. Use “Push Blogging.”

Push Blogging is a very simple way to think about online marketing. It is an approach that is proactive, and that uses all forms of online marketing to achieve best results for SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), Online PR (Public Relations), Social Media, Social Video Sharing, and Brand Management. Your blog should serve as the center of operations for your article campaigns and brand. You should have over 100 social profiles for your company. From your Website or blog you will push out your messages to all sources, hence “Push Blogging.”

Five rules of mastering online marketing by Push Blogging

  1. You should become the perceived thought leader for your industry or industry vertical by creating the best content. Create newsworthy content that is so good that people will want to use your article on their platforms.
  2. Think of a blog post as an article that can be used for many purposes.
  3. Use long tail targeted keywords in your writing.
  4. Make sure to post your article on your Website, and that your blog has a very clear “call-to-action” message that tells the site visitor what to do.
  5. Submit your article to over 100 social sources. Do not wait for people to come to your Website. This includes traditional media. Turn your article into video, audio, text, blogs, and pictures so you can publish to all categories of social media.

You can use the Push blogging approach for any type of online marketing, even though most of this is just common sense. It is a very powerful “results-getting” way to approach online marketing. I suggest that you push every article you publish out to at least 100 sources.

Suggested types of Websites to push your articles to

  • Industry vertical magazines, trade publications, industry forums, and online communities
  • Social Websites like Facebook, Myspace, Bebo
  • Social online groups such as LinkedIn Groups
  • Social bookmarking sites such as delicious, Digg
  • Microblogging sites such as Twitter
  • Your own blog
  • RSS distribution
  • Online press releases and online public relations sites

Step 4: Make your courses Search Engine Optimized

Here are the most important elements of Search Engine Optimized courses.

Page title

When you name a video, blog post, Website, or social media update, the title of your post becomes the page title. Many search engine professionals believe that the page title is the most important element that Google looks at. When naming your social media posts, be very specific and targeted.

Here is a Bad page title example: Pharmacy Tech
Here is a Good page title example: Pharmacy Tech Program Dallas Texas

According to most experts, your primary title length should be limited to 66 characters, including spaces and punctuation. Many have succeeded with more characters. If you need more characters, I would experiment.

Keyword research and tagging

When searching in a Web browser or a social community, the first thing most users do is type in a word or word phrase. So using the best possible words or “keywords” to insure your social communication is found is very important. Becoming an expert on keyword research could take years. In this section, I am only covering the basics. 

A group of many words is called a “long tail.” Long tail words get specific, so people can find exactly what they are looking for.

Go to Google.com and type in “red car” (without the quotation marks). You should see an enormous number of results (this will vary from day to day or even minute to minute – I got 205,000,000 when I did this on a recent evening). Now go to Google.com and type inHonda civic red car club Dallas Texas” (again, without the quotation marks). You should now see a much smaller number of results (the evening I tried this, I got 65,000). The more targeted you make your keywords, the better the success.

You should always use a tool that helps tell you what people are searching for. The Google search-based keyword tool is great and free.

Go to this Website: http://www.google.com/sktool/#

Type “red car” in the box marked “With words or phrases”. Who would have guessed the top result is “wiggles big red car?”
With this tool you put in your keywords or phrases and Google shows you what people are really searching for.  Use this tool, or a tool like it, every time you are creating a title or keywords.

Use local cultural experiences, buzzwords, and news topics in your keywords if they relate to your social media.
Important: Do not try to deceive people by using words that are not related to your social communication. 

Backlinks

A backlink is when someone links to your Website from theirs. When creating links on your social media, do not just link to the Website http://yourWebsite.com. Instead use keywords that link to the same site, e.g., Honda Civic red car club dallas. By linking to the keywords, you will get credit for both the keywords and for the backlink. Many experts believe that backlinks are the second most important part of search engine optimization.

Tags

Tags are a way to identify or segment your social posts. When adding tags, use the same keywords that you used in your title and links. Always use keyword research to pick your title tag, keywords, and the name of links and tags.

Step 5: Do social media the right way

It’s called social networking, not social selling, for a reason.

The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has a lot of truth to it. Imagine if every person you met was linked on your social networks, from friends you lost contact with to that executive from a Fortune 500 company you ate dinner with a few years back. People with very strong social networks, and great ability in their fields, are finding that getting a new customer is much easier with social networking.

Think of Social Networking as a living, breathing, interactive rotary file. Make sure you don’t spam people, and that you don’t sell on social Websites. It has been proven many times that this does not work. What does work is to show and tell people what you’re up to. Be casual, be friendly, be yourself, and show humanity within your networks. The goal is not to soft sell anyone. The goal is to build relationships. If you are looking to better understand your customers and your market, and to become transparent with them, more than likely your company will do better and you will start to benefit from the power of social media.

Don’t write: Hey Bob, I have an X Widget for sell for 30% off this week, you must have your orders in by midnight.

Do write: Hey Bob, how is your family? Christmas in Mexico was a blast! Have you seen the new line of X Widgets we came out with this year? Talk to you soon, Bill.

Suggested social networks to start

  • Twitter
  • Facebook page for each major course or department
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube, and several other video sharing sites
  • Social bookmarking sites like delicious and Digg

If you would like to create your own social networks for your courses, I suggest Ning with a redirected URL back to your domain, or BuddyPress.

Step 6: Build a Tribe

To take your courses and brand to the next level, you must treat people so great that they become big fans of your offerings. Very special brands are so well received that they generate something beyond a fan – some become advocates. If you can reach this level you will have a loyal tribe. In my opinion, no form of marketing is better than having your own tribe of dedicated users. 

A few examples of Tribes:

  • Apple
  • Harley Davidson
  • Copy Blogger

How do you create a tribe?

  • Be the best in the world at what you do.
  • Give tons of value.
  • Tell the truth to your students. If you’re trying to sell them something, tell them. People react better online to honesty than to traditional marketing tactics.
  • Always deliver what you say. Broken promises are one of the fastest ways to lose a customer.
  • Give your loyal customers a reason to love you. It might be a bonus course or discounts that no one else gets.
  • Remember that word of mouth is still the best marketing in the world. You might want to set up a referral program to promote this.
  • Talk to your customers and ask them how you can improve.

Summary

“All this relationship marketing stuff sounds great but where does the selling courses part fit in?”

If you have any traditional marketing that works, do not stop doing it. The reality is that you will have to try everything. The approach that I have described is a long-term holistic approach to building relationships. If you treat people right, have the best products for your industry, and people know that you exist, you should do well.

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