We've put together this guide to help think through the goals, processes, and logistics for reaching the right audience for your course. Some of this includes specific considerations related to learning and online courses; much of it covers general concepts for marketing things online.
This is not a universal marketing guide for all possible types of online course or learning experience. The very term "online course" can mean wildly different things, from "fun casual learning community" to "mega-expensive flagship cohort".
Courses on Hyperlink tend to be eclectic in topic, actively explore a mix of theory and practice, be rigorous yet fun, and fall somewhere in the middle in both length and price. We'll focus here mainly on reaching an audience; you may want to check out our other post on course pricing as well.
It's important to start with some understanding of why someone's likely to join your course, with the commitment (in dollars and time) that entails.
There may not be one single persona, and you should expect to have learners with lots of different backgrounds and constraints and reasons for joining. But your ideal participants are likely:
They're interested in the topic, but that's not all. Maybe they've been meaning to explore this field for a while. Maybe they're seeking a social activity. Maybe they need to learn some particular skill for work. Maybe the course description resonates strongly or it just seems like a lot of fun!
Why should learners enroll? It's important to answer this question in many parts of the course description — from title, to granular syllabus details, to specific activities and projects.
Whether the value of the course come from specific skills, a unique experience, a completed artifact, a strong community, or something else, you should make it clear what they'll take away from the experience.
What concrete things will participants come away with? Learners may end the course with output in the form of a completed artifact, some meaningful project or creative work. They may also end the course with certain identifiable outcomes, like a particular skillset, transformation, or set of tools to take with them.
Your course is an elective; no one's joining to fulfill a specific degree requirement. Learners will enroll not only to learn something, but because they vibe with the specific feel and personality of the course…which is, in large part, your personality!
It's a good thing when that comes through: if your course is cute, or esoteric, or extremely nerdy in a specific way, that will likely resonate with the people who'd get the most out of it.
You've got a clear and detailed course curriculum that speaks to the people who are most likely to be a great fit. Now, how do you get the word out and actually reach these people?
This will vary from course to course, from person to person. There's no one-size-fits-all playbook, but there are some common strategies and starting points we can offer.
At Hyperlink, we see marketing as a partnership, a collective challenge and shared responsibility between you (course creator) and us (as a platform / school / community). We do our best to help spread the word, but ultimately you'll know the audience for your specific course or club best, and have the most direct connections to them.
One big reason we like to launch courses in batches is because of the network effect of creators making a big marketing push together. It gives us a collective burst of momentum that we may not get when launching one new course at a time. You can and should promote your specific course in whatever ways work best for you, but it's nice to have a larger launch event to hype as a community each month, too.
So, how and where should you share? Some starting points:
First and most important. An email list is a marketing channel you own and control, where you can reach people directly, not filtered by algorithms or social media pay-for-play.
Platforms like Buttondown and Substack are easy to get started with; others like Mailchimp or ConvertKit may offer more advanced features (but with greater cost and complexity) if you plan to scale. Most are free to start.
It can be useful to have some kind of theme or identity for a newsletter; something like "Brendan's personal digest" can be a fine starting point, but a fun name and identity — like Colin's "The Winged Schwa", with its nod to linguistics — can give people a stronger, clearer reason to sign up.
Sending once a month can be a nice manageable place to start, but weekly is great if you have enough to share! Once you have a newsletter set up, see below for ideas on a potential launch timeline.
Some examples of Hyperlink course creators with great newsletters: Colin Gorrie, Pamela Hobart, Daniel Temkin, Angelica Isa.
Others we love: Robin Sloan, Nadia Eghbal, Venkatesh Rao, Cherie Hu.
Rather than spread yourself thin by trying to be on every platform, start by focusing on platforms where you're already most active. For example we (Hyperlink) focus on Twitter, but maybe you spend most time on Instagram or somewhere else.
Pick one platform that you enjoy using and talk about what you're doing, learning, and teaching. Every so often, take some time to specifically talk up your course, but post a variety of other stuff and join conversations, too.
You might also try writing blog posts about your course and related themes and topics, making fun and engaging Twitter threads, going on podcasts, or posting YouTube videos.
Reaching out directly to folks you know can be a great way to start. Particularly in your first cohort, it can be nice to have some friends participate, both to make it more comfortable and to give you honest feedback. Talk to a few people who you think would be into the course, and perhaps offer a generous discount or even a free spot.
This is a big one! You're likely active in some communities that relate to what you're teaching, whether a loose crew of folks you know "from the internet" a private membership community, or something else. This might be a Slack group, Discord, subreddit, or mailing list.
Of course, don't be spammy; share in communities where you're an active member, and give some context for what you're working on and why it's interesting, rather than just dropping a link. If a community has a "show and tell" channel or designated area for sharing stuff, use that.
Where else do you know people? Alumni networks, company intranets, or social channels for conferences you've attended could all be good places to share.
Single session events can be a good way to give prospective students a taste of your course, introduce some core ideas and expectations, and get to know you. You can make an event directly on Hyperlink, or use any other platform you like.
As you run your course multiple times, your own alumni network will become more and more useful. If people enjoy your course, they'll probably be happy to recommend to friends. But they might not think of it, so you should ask directly!
Related: as you start to get some initial enrolls, you can also try suggesting that people bring a friend or relative to take the course together; this can make it more fun for everyone!
If you know folks who do similar work, explore similar topics, and may have an interested audience of their own, it's worth reaching out and seeing if they'd be willing to help share. As with above, this works best with people you know at least somewhat and think would dig the course, so it doesn't feel random or spammy request.
It can feel weird to consistently promote a thing you're doing, particularly when it's a thing you're charging for. But it's important — your course will be a lot more fun and rewarding and exciting if you get enough people to fill a cohort (whatever number that means to you).
And if you talk about your course authentically, people will appreciate that! To that end, add some context and color and behind-the-scenes detail: why are you teaching this, what are you excited about, what do you hope to explore with the group? The more detail and personality, the better.
We launch new courses, clubs, and cohorts at the beginning of each month. Usually we need cohorts published by the first Monday of the month, to announce on Wednesday.
We're very interested in the network effect between courses and the Hyperlink community, and do our best to help spread the word and amplify your course promotion.
Again, keep in mind that you know the audience for your topic best, and how you promote your course is up to you. We see this is a partnership, and our goal is for both our audience and yours to continue to grow.
Here's an example of what the launch timeline typically looks like:
A couple other notes:
Oh, and aside from announcing to the Hyperlink email list, we'll continue to share on Twitter and if you tag us (@hyperlink_a) we're always happy to retweet!
Finally, we should acknowledge that teaching, and marketing, don't have to look the same for everyone! For some, a teaching practice is a major part of their work, even the main part. For others, it's an occasional part-time thing. We want to support both.
For a successful course, some marketing and outreach is necessary, but it doesn't have to be intimidating, and is something you can scale along with your course.
Questions / comments? How can we help make this process easier? Click below and we can talk more on the Hyperlink forum.