How I managed to get 565 email addresses in 2 weeks for the launch of a brand new online course.

A year ago, I was running operations and digital marketing for two online courses by Tommy Griffith (SEO at Airbnb):

(Both are hosted on Teachable, btw... but I digress.)

After creating a strategy and successfully launching CourseMinded, I decided to document how I did it. Specifically, how we developed CourseMinded's first email list.

Tommy and I had been going back and forth about how to launch CourseMinded, and I was convinced that a giveaway seemed like a great idea since it would potentially allow us to rally up a big number of people interested in the product.

We decided to use the KingSumo plugin for WordPress, a great solution that allows users to set up a full-fledged giveaway in a matter of minutes.

Neither of us had ever run this kind of tactic, so we had no idea what to expect from it.

When I asked Tommy about what our goal should be, these were his exact words:

“Getting 500 emails would be a nuts goal. Let’s shoot for that”

And so we did – 500 email addresses might not seem like a lot, but considering how niche this market is and the fact that CourseMinded was an entirely new brand and product, we thought it would be a great way to ramp up the launch.

As I saw it, there were three critical stages for a successful giveaway execution (use these links to navigate this post):

  1. The launch.
  2. The sign-up.
  3. The in-contest follow-up(s).

This post also covers (you can also use these links to go to directly to those sections):

 

1. The giveaway launch: Reaching the niche

There are people who like online learning.

Others who like teaching.

CourseMinded is meant to address the intersection of the two. This group was going to be hard – but not impossible – to reach.

In our case, we stuck to what we knew and tried to take advantage of all of the obvious options out there:

– Sending the giveaway to Tommy's SEO course email list. It could be considered kind of a stretch to think that people who were interested in learning about SEO would want to learn how to create an online course.

However, the whole premise for the existence of CourseMinded is that anyone can monetize their expertise. We received some validation from ClickMinded’s students through various emails:

“I’d love to start a few courses… I’m overwhelmed.”

So we wrote a launch email based on that insight and sent it to that list.

– Sharing the giveaway with our own network of people via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

– Publishing the giveaway in Subreddits, Facebook and LinkedIn groups related to ed-tech and online learning. We were careful not to be spammy and try to provide value to these communities. Our posts were generally well received because of this.

– Submitting a link to the giveaway to sweepstakes blogs and Subreddits. The messaging for these was straightforward. People in these communities are actually looking for deals so we could be way more direct.

Tommy and I talked a lot about how this would affect the results of the giveaway. We didn’t want to attract the wrong audience – people who cared more about other prizes in the bundle than the featured prize: the CourseMinded course.

To prevent this from happening, it was important to think very carefully about what to include in the bundle. We would rather provide products and services needed to create and launch an online course that would add up to $1,000 in value than to give away a gift card for that amount.

– Paid search. We identified two primary searcher intents around what CourseMinded offers, “create an online course” and “teach online,” so we created AdWords ad groups to match them.

AdWords Giveaway Ad

PROTIP: Since giveaways have a short and finite lifespan, you can include dynamic parameters (X days left) in your ads to add a sense of urgency. Just remember to always have at least one ad without these parameters in each ad group, or Google won’t approve your campaign – happened to me :(

– Facebook ads. In this case, we took advantage of the advanced targeting options available and created ads for two segments:

  1. Educators (professors, tutors, faculty, teachers.)
  2. People interested online learning, MOOCs, and platforms such as Coursera and EdX.

PROTIP: If you can, A/B test video vs. static-image ads and stick with the version that performs better. In our case, static images performed 4-5 times better than video regarding CTR.

– LinkedIn ads. We ran a similar segmentation as in Facebook; we used people’s job titles to target educators and LinkedIn groups to target people interested in online learning.

However, average CTR turned out to be really low (0.073%), so we decided against continuing with this channels after just two days, to focus efforts in others.

– Cold emailing (shame.) Finally, we wanted to test our hypothesis that people who are already monetizing their knowledge and skills offline (tutors, independent teachers) were more likely to want to create an online course. We reached out to 200+ leads via email. Only 2 of these signed up to the giveaway, so we decided to discontinue this acquisition channel too.

I executed most of these tactics in the first two days of the launch, others I tried once the giveaway had started.

TAKEAWAY: The giveaway launch

The key here is to try to launch the giveaway by covering as much ground as possible to reach a larger audience, but also staying nimble:

  • Identify what’s working and improve on it.
  • Check what isn’t working and decide if it’s worth your time to try to fix it, if not, just stop doing it.
  • If new opportunities arise, evaluate and test them.

Once you've identified channels that are generating solid leads, try to figure out how to create network effects within them.

Here are some channels you can try when you launch your own giveaway:

  • Your email list.
  • Your existing followers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other social network.
  • Paid advertising on those same social media channels, to reach audiences other than your own.
  • Existing groups/communities in the social channels above + Reddit.
  • Paid search on Google or Bing.

 

2. The sign-up: Maximizing the impact of the shares

Once we got people to the giveaway page, it was important to convince them to sign up. Our copy structure was really simple:

The description of the course

The description of the bundle

The call-to-action

PROTIP: We realized that there was a lot of information on this page. So we added a TL;DR explanation at the top of the page with a link to an anchor at the bottom of the page to sign up. This would let users join the giveaway faster if they didn’t want to read all of the content.

Once signed up, the participants had the option to increase their chances of winning by sharing the giveaway and receiving three extra entries per referral.

Here's how that page originally looked: 

Here's how it looked after I tweaked it (next, I will explain each of the changes):

We added the number of entries to the giveaway to the page and updated it regularly. We did this to give contestants visibility of where they stood in the giveaway and encourage them to get more entries.

Several contestants emailed us because they didn’t understand how to get additional entries. We realized that this was not clear enough from the default copy in the plugin, so we added our own.

The KingSumo plugin provides contestants with the option to share their referral links through social media directly. This was great since it multiplied the reach of our own efforts.

However, the default share message just included the name of the giveaway and a link.

Before:

Our hypothesis was that if people shared that message, it would look spammy and not too engaging, so people wouldn’t click through.

To fix this, I hacked my own message into the share button link; that would make it seem more authentic and interesting.

After:

After making this change, I realized that might not be enough. Considering the audience was so specific, the chances that the participants were part of the same online communities was higher than usual.

To avoid too much message repetition and people seeing right through our tactic, I created three different messages and randomized their display. This was as simple as including a short script in the giveaways page template code:

There was something that was missing from the KingSumo plugin. The meta tags to create Twitter cards from the shared links were not a part of the original code, as the Twitter card validator showed:

These were really easy to add in the footer of the page through KingSumo’s advance settings: 

And voilá! A really nice Twitter card: 

A nice touch was to let people know that we liked that they were sharing our giveaway on Twitter. To do that, we did a search on Twitter for the giveaway URL and ran a script to like/favorite everyone who had tweeted it. You can find that script in this awesome post on growth hacking a Twitter follower base: 

Finally, we repurposed one of Tommy's most successful blog posts on “how ClickMinded became a six-figure side project” since it tells the story of what encouraged him to create CourseMinded in the first place.

The post was updated, retitled “How To Create an Online Course From Scratch,” posted under the new CourseMinded domain and redirected from its old location.

We included this post in the share links for the giveaway, which we figured would work to drive quality traffic to the site.

To avoid missing an opportunity to drive people to the giveaway. We installed a persistent header on the blog post page using Smart Bar from the SumoMe suite:

PROTIP: SumoMe allows HTML in the text to the header. This meant that we could add a script for a countdown timer to the end of the giveaway. You can do that too - just copy and paste the code below in the HTML field of the Smart Bar and modify the bolded text.

<script>
var end = new Date('01/28/2016 12:01 PM');
var _second = 1000;
var _minute = _second * 60;
var _hour = _minute * 60;
var _day = _hour * 24;
var timer;
function showRemaining() {
var now = new Date();
var distance = end - now;
if (distance < 0) {
clearInterval(timer);
document.getElementById('countdown').innerHTML = 'CourseMinded is live!';
return;
}
var days = Math.floor(distance / _day);
var hours = Math.floor((distance % _day) / _hour);
var minutes = Math.floor((distance % _hour) / _minute);
var seconds = Math.floor((distance % _minute) / _second);
document.getElementById('countdown').innerHTML = 'Only ' + days + ' days, ';
document.getElementById('countdown').innerHTML += hours + ' hours, ';
document.getElementById('countdown').innerHTML += minutes + ' minutes & ';
document.getElementById('countdown').innerHTML += seconds + ' seconds to get the launch bundle!';
}
timer = setInterval(showRemaining, 1000);
</script>
<div id="countdown"></div>

TAKEAWAY: The sign-up

Each of the things that I tried for the giveaway sign-up stage had 2 objectives:

  • Increase the chances of people joining the giveaway once they landed on the page by making it easy and attractive.
  • Try to turn sign-ups into an effective channel of acquisition via referrals.

Look for things you can do to accomplish the same thing.

 

3. The in-contest follow-ups: (Growth hacking)n

Now that we had maximized the impact of our initial interaction with the participants it was time to keep the momentum going.

We leveraged on email automation to achieve this.

The contestants would receive a follow-up email the next weekday after signing up to the giveaway.

Here’s how I planned the follow-up.

I put myself in the position of a contestant. When I participate in a giveaway, I want more entries (invite more people) to have higher chances of winning.

I realized that, in this case, our interests and our customers’ aligned perfectly.

But here's the thing: a contestant might not know how to get referrals.

So I came up with an idea to teach people how to grow their own number of entries by doing exactly what we were doing = (Growth hacking)n

The automated email essentially explained to contestants how to leverage Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit in a very simple way to get referrals. We used clickbait/Buzzfeed-type subject lines and copy to try to engage our contestants with this email - shame on me, but it works!

Before we launched this giveaway, I spent several weeks gathering information on how other people ran their giveaways. Something that I found some people do and I thought was particularly interesting was to “sweeten the deal” in the middle of the giveaway period to re-engage contestants.

We decided to do this by:

1. Adding another big prize to the giveaway bundle, which we actually had already planned to include, but held back on its announcement.

2. Offering a guaranteed prize to contestants who achieved a certain number of referrals. We chose ten referrals since it was both attainable (not discouraging to the contestant) but not so much that every contestant would be able to get it. The guaranteed prize was the actual product: CourseMinded, valued at $497.

Of the two upgrades, the latter seems to have been the most effective one. We received several emails about it as soon as we announced it.

This was particularly satisfying since it was a qualitative measurement of how excited our contestants were about a not-yet-launched product.

TAKEAWAY: The follow-up

My advice to you is to think long and hard about your follow up.

Most people launch a giveaway and focus only on attracting sign-ups but miss a huge opportunity of leveraging the existing participants to grow.

Here's what you can do:

  • Set up email reminders to participants.
  • Promote competition/gamify the experience.
  • Use urgency when the end of the giveaway approaches.
  • Introduce new incentives throughout the duration of the giveaway.

 

Bringing it all together: Results

It took A LOT of work to plan, launch and maintain this seemingly simple tactic, but you get what you put into it.

Tommy said that 500 would be a “nuts goal” and we achieved 115% of that goal.

In my short career as a digital marketer, few things have been more satisfying than hitting this number.

I put a lot of work into tweaking the mechanism to get as many referrals as possible. As a result of it, referrals drove the most contestants of all of the channels mentioned above: 47% of the total number of contestants were referred by someone else!

Our existing email list was another important channel: 28% of the contestants were part of it. However, this represented less than 3% of the people from that list.

The important thing here is that unless you have a HUGE list or one that is mainly composed of people who are already interested in your new product (which is kind of a catch-22 since this is the reason for running a giveaway in the first place), having an email list will likely not make or break your giveaway - you will just need to work harder to acquire the first contestants that will get your referral engine going.

The combination of all of our other direct efforts to get contestants (AdWords, Facebook ads and groups, LinkedIn ads and groups, Subreddits, etc) generated only 25% of the total number of contestants acquired. This just confirms that we were right to have put a lot of effort into referrals since our own contestants turned out to be the most effective channel for acquisition in the giveaway.

The chart below shows the sign-ups to the giveaway per day (blue bars). The yellow bars represent sign-ups that we got from the ClickMinded Students email list. The red bars represent sign ups that occurred as a result of referrals.

As you can see, it could be that our whole referral engine was just starting to work when we stopped or that the urgency of the deadline prompted action from people. In any case, it would’ve been interesting to know what could have happened if we had continued for another week.

Lastly, data shows that people got truly motivated to share when we announced that there was a guaranteed prize (on 11/5) and that’s when we really started getting people through referrals. I guess the takeaway here is that (counter-intuitively) our target seemed to prefer a smaller but certain prize, than a larger one that depends on chance.

Our audience is definitely not composed of gamblers or the lottery-ticket-buyer type. If I had to do this again – which I will most likely do – I would offer the guaranteed prize right from the start.

 

What we could have done better: Analytics

If there is one thing that I wish I would have invested more time in, it is tracking.

It was difficult to track each acquisition channel separately and we could only get so far as click-through.

The better way to do this would have included conversion tracking on sign-ups and event tracking for each of the many buttons available, as well as UTM links for each channel of acquisition, campaign and target segment.

This would have allowed us to be more effective when it came to optimizing our efforts and do a deeper analysis of the results of the giveaway.

IMPORTANT NOTE IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO USE THE KINGSUMO PLUGIN: CourseMinded is hosted in WordPress and uses Google Tag Manager to install tags – this includes Google Analytics. However, the page generated by the plugin does not include the tags from GTM by default. I had to manually insert the snippets of code into the giveaways page template to be able to measure traffic to that page.

 

Are you ready to take action?

Join our team for an exclusive webinar on the 7 steps to launch an online course!

Save my spot

Check out more content like this

Back to Blog
Eduardo Yi

Written by Eduardo Yi

Eduardo Yi is a content marketer at Teachable, the platform that allows anyone to teach online, where he gets to work on the intersect of his four passions: education, digital marketing, and incomplete lists.