Think about it…what’s the one form of online communication you use the most frequently?
We have dozens of platforms available to choose from to communicate online instantly, such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Yammer, forums, well, the list goes on and on with new technologies continually evolving.
But even with so many new forms of instant electronic communication available right from the phone in your pocket, at 30-years-old email is still the most widely used means of sending and receiving messages online.
In fact, one recent study suggests that 85% of internet users worldwide rely on email as their primary form of communication. Of course, this statistic varies based on age demographic as well as geographic location. Younger internet users tend to rely on social media more heavily, while some countries simply haven’t moved toward adopting those platforms.
So when it comes to communicating with your online course participants, it seems obvious that using email should remain as at least one of your primary channels for sharing information. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t install a forum, commenting system, or set up a FaceBook group to communicate, but email still seems to be the best way to share important updates or announcements.
This is one of the primary reasons we’ve chosen to add functionality to WP Courseware which allows you to deliver important notices, such as quiz grades, final cumulative grades, or course completion notices via email in the course settings.
And we have plans to add some great new extended functionality to the built-in email notifications in the coming months. 🙂
But we often hear from customers who want to communicate with their course participants regularly “outside” of the course using email marketing platforms such as aWeber or MailChimp.
And, in fact, Ben and I have done this with our own online training courses which led to the development of WP Courseware.
What is an Email Marketing Service?
Most of you are already going to know the answer to this question. However, if you haven’t used an email service before, these are subscription based platforms which will:
*Create email signup forms for you to embed on your site
*Capture and store subscribers for you, allowing you to require that they opt-in to the email list (always recommended)
*Allow you to create text or HTML emails to send to your subscribers, either at automated intervals or through a broadcast
*They provide the ability to segment your subscribers into lists so that you can send relevant information to the right subscribers
*You’re able to review detailed analytics on what messages your subscribers view, when they open them, and trends in signups
There are a number of them on the market, with everyone having their own favorite. Some of the more popular services included aWeber, MailChimp, Constant Contact, and MadMimi, but there are plenty to choose from to meet your needs.
How Does this Help You as a WP Courseware User?
Whether it’s developed by the email marketing service itself or through a third-party developer in the WordPress plugin repository, nearly all of the most popular services have an integration for WordPress.
This means that once you’ve signed up for an account with the service of your choice, depending on the provider, you have a couple of ways of getting your students onto an email list so that you can communicate with them regularly.
1. You can use an integration to automatically send newly registered WordPress users to a list.
This method is very simple and ideal if you have only one course or want to keep all of your users on the same list.
Basically, you’ll install the integration, possibly enter API details from your provider, and then indicate the list which you want your users added to. When they register on your WordPress site, they’ll receive a confirmation email from your email service provider asking them to opt-in to your list. Done and done.
2. Embed a sign up form for a specific segmented list on your course outline page.
Most of the email marketing service providers allow you to create web-based sign up forms which can collect emails for a specific list. This sign up form can then be embedded in any post or page on your site, as seen in the following screenshot.
This is a better method for collecting email address which are only relevant for a specific topic you plan to write about in your emails or ensuring that course announcements go out to the right students.
3. And if you’re using a membership plugin, it’s even more simple.
As many of you are aware, WP Courseware integrates with a number of popular WordPress membership plugins. Most of these plugins have built-in integration with at least a handful of email marketing services.
Some of these membership plugins also allow you to assign registrations for a specific membership level to one of your lists, automating the process completely even without a web form embedded on your site.
Why is this useful?
Well, let’s say that you want to create a specific list which only contains course participants for a “Beginning PHP Development” course and you want to keep those subscribers separate from your intermediate and advanced courses to keep your communications relevant.
In this case of #2 above, you would create a signup form for your new “Beginning PHP Development” list and embed that form on the course outline page. The student receives a confirmation email to opt-in to that list and that list only.
If they move on to a new course, they sign up for the new list to receive information relevant to that course and if they choose, they can unsubscribe from the previous list.
With #3, using a membership plugin, you’ll be able to achieve the same list segmentation described above without even using a web form.
(Note: Covering the exact details of what types of integrations are available and how to integrate with all of the popular services is beyond the scope of this article. But the support desk or knowledgebase area of the provider you choose will have detailed instructions and if not, you can search the WordPress repository for integrations.)
What About Existing Users on My WordPress Site?
If this is a process you’re hoping to implement, but you already have a number of users on your WordPress site, that’s no problem either!
Most email service providers have a method of importing subscribers to a list using a CSV file. There are also a number of plugins, such as Users to CSV by Yoast, available in the WordPress Repository which will allow you to export your users to CSV format.
They can then be formatted according to the requirements of your email service provider and imported to a list. You’ll want to be sure that this import does require a double opt-in to ensure that your existing users indicate that they want to receive information from the list.
How Can These Lists Be Used?
1. Announcing important news or updates
One of the obvious reasons to keep your course participants organized into lists with an email marketing service is to allow you to announce important news or changes to a course.
2. Provide reinforcing or external resources related to your course
These communications can also be used to enhance the learner’s experience by providing links to resources which will help them further understand concepts addressed within your courses.
3. Encourage participants to explore other courses
If you have multiple courses which may align with content a user is currently studying, you may choose to email them to encourage them to broaden their knowledge by enrolling for other content you’ve created. Lynda.com is a great example, as many of their courses teach sequentially advancing levels of expertise on one concept or have courses on concepts which are closely aligned with others.
The Possibilities are Endless!
I’m sure you can think of many other reasons to add the email contacts of your course participants to a list! Let us know your thoughts in the comments section of this post!