Written By: Alex Stulac
Published: October 28th, 2020
Today, a wide range of content marketing campaigns are bringing brands and organizations enormous success online. These campaigns use content of all forms from videos, to photos, to infographics, and to written blogs - like this one.
At the crux of Inbound Marketing, the fundamental methodology of content marketing, is creating free informative and educational content to engage with your target audience.
What is the most informative, educational, and interactive digital content you can create online? A free online course.
Get started on creating your online course today!
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How Popular Are Free Online Courses Today?
First, let me begin by defining free for the context of this article. When I say free, there is no currency exchanged. But, most of the time, these free online courses are gated, requiring a name and email to take the course.
For many years businesses have been developing online course curriculums to support their
brands. They have built online learning resource sites, online academies, or online universities to raise engagement and brand awareness. This is especially helpful if your business offers complicated technology or software.
Here is a list of a few popular brands that have taken the leap toward online education:
The Pandemic has forced us to reshape our daily lives, driving people online more than they ever have before. People want to learn, they like to learn, and, for their jobs, they have to learn. On May 7th, 2020, Tom Vander Ark, Forbes, published a valuable editorial, analyzing the pandemics' influence on online learning. "In a survey by edX, 38% of learners said they want to learn something new and 25% wanted to upskill in their jobs. Another 16% were replacing other forms of schooling." If you continue on down the rabbit hole you'll come across some more insightful information that Tom shared.
"The Udemy Neural Networks courses are up 61%, chatbot courses are up 60%, and a TensorFlow class is up 46%. Courses on professional skills are also hot: Growth Mindset (up 206%), Communication Skills (up 131%), and Innovation (up 98%). "
"Passion projects like Pilates (402% increase), Technical Drawing (920%), and Ukulele (292%) are keeping people active and healthy."
"LinkedIn Learning traffic has tripled during the pandemic with an uptick in tech upskilling as well as courses on mindfulness and stress management."
On July 30th, 2002, USA Today interviewed the CEO of Khan Academy, Sal Kahn, to see how his widely-popular free learning platform was doing:
"Khan said before COVID-19, the site was averaging 30 million learning minutes per school. At the peak of spring, Khan Academy was averaging 90 million learning minutes."
Brett Molina, USA Today
But before you say, "online course development seems like a lot of work and research," hear me out. The courses you'll create will be in relation to your brand, products/services, and operations. All of these subjects you claim to hold knowledge in, if not, be an expert on.
You should review your Buyer Personas. This will tell you if this is the right direction for your company to pivot toward. Is your target audience made of individuals with multiple degrees, such as Masters and Ph.D. degrees? This could indicate that these individuals enjoy learning. Dive deeper and uncover how your target audience gathers and consumes information. More times than not, a buyer persona will say "Gathers information from webinars, and online courses." Bingo.
My goal with this article, and as a digital marketing consultant, is to find cost-effective ways for you to see a return on your investment (ROI).
Next, look at your buyer persona(s) and see what problems your target audience faces. Is your target audience struggling to use your products/services? Do you hold the knowledge that could solve problems your target audience has in their professional as well as their personal lives?
Moz, a Seattle-based SEO software company that builds solutions for SEO, Marketing Analytics, and Inbound Marketing, discovered their audience could benefit from a free course on how to use their software. Take a look and see how Moz outlined its curriculum.
How do I build an Online Course?
To build an online course, begin by asking yourself the questions below:
1. What is the subject of my online course?
Online courses can range in complexity. Don't start off by thinking this online course needs to be an 8-hour certification course. It can be but doesn't always need to be.
As I mentioned above, begin with your target audience's problems in mind and how you can help solve them. If you've done your preliminary research, your buyer personas will tell you what problems, professional and personal, your target audience faces. Review these problems and assess what knowledge your organization has to assist them.
Comb through your product/service reviews. Are your customers having issues understanding how to use these offerings? Even better, if you have a customer support department and/or sales department, you can pull on these team members to find out more. Ask these departments how they are currently solving this problem? Is it a big issue that affects a large portion of your customers?
2. What do I need to make an online course?
Once you've figured out which problem would be best explained
through an online course, assemble your development team.
I like to begin with three key team members:
1. Business Coach: A business coach (internal or external) helps you solve problems. Find a coach with a teaching background, who feels comfortable assembling a curriculum.
2. Content Developer: A multi-skilled content developer with experience in video, photo, and graphic design will give your curriculum flexibility in its structural design. Some content developers have the ability to create interactive videos as well.
In the video below, I spoke with Roman Hardgrave, General Manager and Head of Learning Design, MRU.org. Roman discusses how valuable video is to teaching complex subject matter, like economics, but also its value in marketing. But he emphasizes that "video needs to be paired with other things to be really effective."
If you want to find an affordable freelance content developer near you, try scanning Linkedin or Upwork, depending on your budget.
3. Marketing Strategist: A creative marketing strategist will help you by guiding development, writing copy, and managing deployment.
Stulac Marketing works closely with key stakeholders on the development of digital marketing campaigns. We help to remove some of the weight that may come with this build, as well as offer sound advice and guidance along the way.
Tips for Building Your Online Course
1. Review Competitors: Do any of your competitors offer online courses? If they do, how are those courses created? This will be a good place to start.
2. Consider a Hybrid of Text and Video: Interactive videos, power points, and more are very useful in course lesson designs. You could also keep it all text to make it easier, but consider your audience's retention of the information and willingness to engage. Most of the time, it is a combination of both mediums.
3. YouTube is Cost Effective: YouTube holds so much power in the digital age. It's being called the "Princess of search engines" right behind the Queen, Google, because of the magnitude of people who use Youtube to search for information in the form of a question. Here's another reason: Google is connected with YouTube, so if you're trying to optimize for search, your best bet is to house the videos on YouTube. Take a look and see how Khan Academy organizes its courses on YouTube.
Here are 3 other popular sites where you can host course(s).
Note: Subdomains work great for Search as well. Create a subdomain as HubSpot did for HubSpot Academy (acedmey.hubspot.com).
4. Don't Forget Calls-To-Action: This course is a marketing asset as much as it is an educational asset. Take the time to assess your goals, and desired outcome from this course. Do you want to improve brand awareness, gain more revenue, or generate more leads? Then make engaging CTAs to create conversions and meet your goals.
Statistics on Online courses during the pandemic.
Below are a couple of sites for you to explore. These organizations have harnessed the power of online learning. Take a look at how each one of these organizations builds each course. This should give you some insight into how involved your course(s) may or may not need to be. We review these courses, look at courses that align with your industry and field.
I have taken at least one course, if not a full certification, from each one of these platforms listed below. Be aware, some of the courses are gated by a login and/or a cost.
I hope this article was helpful. People are consuming more information than ever right now, and they are doing it online. Marketing does not need to use flashy ads. It can be as simple as teaching someone a new subject.
I wish you and your business the best of luck.
If you would like to connect and discuss ideas, please feel free to contact me for a virtual “coffee.”
Alex Stulac, Digital Marketing Consultant
Alex Stulac is a Digital Marketing Consultant and Principal of Stulac Marketing. Alex's education began in film and screenwriting, where he discovered his talent for storytelling. After a college marketing internship at Bose Corporation, Alex found that his talent for storytelling, and curiosity toward learning, was extremely valuable in Inbound Marketing. After college, Alex began an entrepreneurial track in content development and digital marketing, focusing on harmonizing the relationship between creative content development and market research. Alex's goal is to bring engaging and story-driven brand content that is informative, educational, and profitable.
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