What Do You Do if Your Course Goes Viral?
Having a viral course is like winning the online lottery—right? Here’s how to handle the buzz.
For almost anyone trying to grow an audience on the Internet, the idea that they might someday “go viral” is an alluring pipe dream. Almost every day brings a new Internet sensation, launching a previously unknown party to sudden—and usually short-lived—prominence.
Given how frequently we see some piece of online content go viral, it seems reasonable to think that one day it might happen to us. And yet, those who expect to go viral as a matter of course often forget how much content there is online—and how much of it remains under the radar. Creating viral content is difficult and unpredictable. More importantly, it can often work against you, or lead to inflated numbers that look good on paper, but mean very little in terms of concrete course sales.
Still, if you do ever go viral, the most important thing is to have a plan in place for turning that opportunity to your advantage. Here are four steps to ensure that your viral course idea is a benefit to your business—and not its downfall.
1. Be prepared with the right infrastructure in place.
One of the most common problems many sites encounter when their traffic suddenly explodes is that they don’t have the bandwidth to manage the increased load. No one wants to overpay for premium hosting services when they’re just getting started, which means that an unexpected traffic spike could easily crash their site if they aren’t prepared.
Fortunately, hosting services are beginning to evolve to take these bursts of traffic into account. Some offer flexible hosting services that can rapidly scale to accommodate traffic increases so that users can pay for a pricing plan based on the traffic they expect, but not worry about their site crashing if they go viral.
2. Let your audience know what’s going on.
If you do go viral, it’s likely to lead to some hiccups, no matter how well prepared you are. One of the worst things you can do is leave these issues unaddressed. If you have members signing up for your course but hearing nothing from you afterwards, it could expose you to some very unhappy customers.
That said, audiences are going to be much more understanding if you’re honest with them about the sudden demand for your course. By this time, most Internet users understand that the nature of going viral can have a significant impact on an individual if they have to scale from a handful of registered course users to several thousand overnight. If you’re having difficulties coping with the new load, it’s better to inform your learners than leave them in the dark.
3. Strike while the iron is hot.
In the best-case scenarios, going viral is a potentially life-changing opportunity. It’s a way to get your brand in front of thousands of people, which can in turn mean establishing yourself as an industry leader for years to come. That’s a huge boost, and you should be ready to take the fullest advantage of it while you can.
The best way to do this is to have a simple ask of new visitors that will help you collect their information so that you can contact them again in the future. For instance, you might have a lot of new site traffic, but that may not be directly leading to course sales. Rather than let those visitors leave never to return again, create a newsletter form and encourage them to enter their email address so they can receive updates about new course offerings.
4. Make sure you can deliver what you promised.
Finally, don’t sell what you can’t deliver. The last thing you want is for your course to go the way of a failed Kickstarter. If you go viral while pitching the idea for a course (which is a legitimate sales strategy), do you homework first to be certain that your concept can be executed.
Secondly, if you know your course will require a certain number of hours of your time per student, factor that into how you handle course sales. If you have to put up a waiting list to enter your course, that’s better than issuing refunds to angry learners. And if your course demand is that high, it’s also a sign that you should be raising your prices.
Slow and steady is more reliable (and more likely!) than going viral.
Going viral is not a requirement of success. In fact, the educators who focus on laying down the right groundwork and building a solid course will have a greater likelihood of success than those who bank on winning the viral lottery.
So, don’t get hung up on instant popularity. Instead, build the best course you can and cultivate a community of learners whose positive experiences will encourage them to share your course to their networks.
Finally, the more experience you have creating and delivering satisfying courses to your learners, the more prepared you will be for big opportunities when they do come your way. If you can achieve success and a great reputation with learners on a small scale, growing your course as you gain popularity will be easier than having to learn how to do so overnight.