Why Relying on Social Media Marketing Won’t Scale Your Online Course Business Anymore (and what will)

Is the sheer volume of tasks you have to do to sell your online course through social media marketing starting to drive you mad?

No matter what you do, it feels like you’ll always be stuck on a hamster wheel of content creation, and your legs are getting tired AF.

Personally, it exhausts me just thinking of the amount of time I have to spend on content to stay relevant. And social media isn’t even my biggest marketing strategy, although I know it is for most course creators these days.

Woman typing on a laptop

By the way, Hi! I’m Frannie, founder & CEO of Elevate Her Marketing. We serve female online course creators, helping them scale their businesses and income so they have the power to create the lives that they desire.

Since starting EHM, we’ve generated over 600,000 leads for clients and have helped them bring in over $8 million in profit.

Anyway, despite the hours and complexity of your social media marketing efforts — those daily reels, IG Stories, endless video takes… you’re still not seeing the results you’ve been working so hard towards.

This can feel exhausting, like you’re making all this progress only to go absolutely nowhere. 

The type of traction you need to see to consistently sell your course via social used to be fairly simple. But we’ve seen a slow decline over the years and in the last 8-12 months it’s snowballed into a massive issue.

The way we work with our clients, we know everything from their long-term business strategy to the code on the back end of their website…we see their monthly finances and data reports, which allows us to see the marketing strategies that perform best.

We also see what doesn’t work and the trends as they happen, from the inside. This experience has given us a broader perspective of the industry as a whole and insight most people can’t see.

Here’s the problem,

The effectiveness of social media marketing (also known as organic marketing) for selling online courses has experienced a sharp decline.

According to Social Insider, Instagram’s organic reach has declined 32% year over year.

If you don’t take action to adjust to this, you might find your business left in the dust. 

Old course marketing strategies just don’t work like they used to. You need to make a shift now if you really want your business to make it for the long haul. 

A number of course creators have successfully improvised their strategy with our help. One of our clients, Cristina Galbato, made about $4 millionin sales working with us. Other other clients are hitting their first $20k months or making consistent high five-figures every month!

You might feel like that’s an unreachable goal at the moment or wonder “How the HECK is that possible?!”

It is 100% possible, when you adjust your marketing to the current industry, and that’s exactly what you’ll learn in this blog, so keep reading…

Part 1: Why Isn’t Organic Marketing Working Anymore?

There are multiple reasons why organic marketing isn’t delivering results for course creators like it used to. Based on what we’ve seen with our 5, 6, & 7 figure clients, here’s what it boils down to…

  • Increased competition for attention is making it impossible to see the reach you once could with content (this includes new people finding your business but also your own audience being able to see your posts.) 

  • The Meta algorithm changes have decreased organic reach because as reach goes down, their stock price goes up.

  •  The algorithm pushes fresh, highly-engaging content. This means if you’re not posting high-quality content constantly, in all placements you will struggle to see visibility.

But let’s get into the nitty gritty details of it all….

Increased competition for attention, in more ways than one.

Since 2020, competition in the online course industry has seen a massive spike alongside a significant increase in content production on Instagram.

It’s due to a number of things, including the increasing demand for flexible and accessible education options after the pandemic. This shift has led to a cultural transformation, with people turning to online courses to acquire new skills, further their education, or pursue personal interests.

Plus, with the quick rise of A.I., creating a course is easier than ever. People that previously spent months creating a program can now spend hours putting something together with the help of tools like ChatGPT.

In total, the Online Learning industry is expected to grow to a $687 billion dollar industry by 2030, up from $240 billion in 2022!

The social platforms course creators have traditionally used to market their products have also seen massive growth. The sheer volume of people producing content on Instagram has exploded, it’s grown from 1.5 billion to 2.3 billion users. There’s simply a much larger pool of people trying to have their content seen…

While these people are not all in the online course industry, they are still competing for the same real estate that you are in the Instagram feed.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Okay, Frannie, I get it but there’s also TikTok!”

In 2018 there were only about 340 million people on Tiktok, but by 2027, it’s expected to have 2.2B users. This is almost as many people as Instagram has right now. The growth path of users on TikTok has been ever faster than Facebook & Instagram, which means the problems will be exactly the same as what you’re already facing on Instagram

Plus, if you think the user-base skews young only, you’re wrong! In 2023, 40% are over 35 and an additional 33% are over 25. It’s not just kids on the app now.

Algorithm changes prioritize fresh & paid content

Algorithm changes prioritize fresh & paid content

Another crucial challenge organic marketing faces in promoting online courses is the evolving complexity of algorithms & governing platforms like Meta.

You may wonder what Meta gets out of this evolving approach. First and foremost, it’s good for Meta’s business. As organic reach goes down, Meta’s stock price goes up. Meta is a business with shareholders to answer to and being in that position they have to do what benefits the bottom line. We don’t like it when it impacts what we’re able to do, but it’s the nature of running a business.

The new algorithm(s) is also based on engagement. This means it prioritizes content that comes from accounts that have users regularly engaging.

To see this for your business you have to create high quality content, which can be time-consuming and costly, but you also have to be consistently posting it (in addition to all the other work on your plate.)

You might be spending a lot of time on your content but if it’s not getting immediate engagement, then it’s often wasted effort. It’s almost like you do all that work for the first few minutes of posting and if it doesn’t take off you’ve got to start all over again. It’s tedious and frankly, a massive waste of time.

Creating High-Quality Content is Time Consuming

As the competition on social media grows, so do the skills of people using it. Professionals that were once focused on video production in other areas are now taking their skills to these apps because the earning potential for high-quality content creation is skyrocketing.

But, honestly, brainstorming great ideas and then executing them like a pro is not easy at all. It takes multiple hours of intensive work.

You have to review previous data, strategize for new content, record, edit, possible re-record if needed, write captions, schedule, engage after you post, review insights, and analyze your results…multiple that by the # of posts you need and weeks in a year 😵‍💫

Because of  how time-intensive this process is, many course creators unknowingly generate bland or repetitive content and don’t get an organic push by the algorithm. So, all that work was for…nothing?

When you do hit the jackpot and get a post that really resonates and sees a ton of reach, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see sales or followers from it.

Virality feels cool, but it rarely turns into the results that you’re actually looking for with all the effort you put into your organic social media strategy.

Want to know what bothers me the most? Even after brilliant and hard-working course creators like you put in so much effort into your content, ROI is very uncertain and untrackable with organic content. Sure you can take an educated guess based on when a post does well and if you made sales, but the data is extremely vague.

Difficulty establishing trust and authority

Establishing trust and authority quickly is a challenge in organic marketing. The algorithms of Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok believe that accounts with loyal followers and high-engagement over a long period of time are more authoritative than newer accounts.

Which kind of blows, if you’re someone with a well established business that didn’t focus on social media previously.

Building this authority takes time and effort. The larger accounts you see are getting more traction and meanwhile you’re only getting a handful of comments and a few followers because you can’t compete with their reach.

How to Scale Despite Social Media Marketing Challenges

By now you understand that getting to the $10k, $20k, $50k or months you’ve been dreaming about through organic social media marketing in today’s digital landscape is a massive challenge.

So what can you do about it? 

There are a few options…

Option 1

You become a content creator. Not in the literal sense of being someone that only creates content but you decide to go all in on creating the high-quality and quantity of content needed to see results with organic social media today.

This is in addition to running the actual business you have. Remember that visual I showed you earlier about the recommended amount of content to create each month? You commit to sticking to this cadence and also ensuring that the content you create is of the highest quality you can afford (not only in production but strategy as well.)

Don’t forget that it’s more than just content creation as well, you need to be engaging with 70+ accounts per day, per the recommendations of this social media manager.

In order to do this you’ll need to research a running list of relevant people you want to interact with, you’re not just going to comment on content or DM random people. If you’re going to spend time doing this then you want to know that the people you’re engaging with are your ideal audience.

When you do commit to this type of engagement strategy, you have to make sure it’s thoughtful & relationship building engagement and not sales-y and robotic. None of the “wow amazing post” type of comments, you actually need to write something meaningful & connect back to the content you’re engaging with. DMs are the same, no sales pitching or blanket messages to 20 people, you want to write something meaningful.

All of this is just for Instagram, you can and should also consider branching out to other platforms like Tiktok, Pinterest, Youtube, and other platforms as well, in order to see continued growth.

To be honest, even those that LOVE creating content are finding this impossible to keep up with and almost all of the highly successful course creators today are using other marketing strategies to supplement their organic efforts.

Option 2

Use other people’s audiences. This means that you connect with other businesses that have a similar ideal customer to yours and they cross promote your content and products.

In order for this to be successful, you need to find people with a much larger audience than you have and they have to be willing to partner with you.

Many times I find that the larger accounts have already partnered with someone in my niche. But if they haven’t it can be a successful strategy!

The big plus here is that you don’t have to do all the manual work to build a large audience of people that are interested in what you have to share. You “borrow” the work of the business you partner with. A portion of their audience will follow you, join your email list, and even buy from you. You’re lucky to be benefiting from the years of time and resources they’ve put into building their community.

The downfall of this type of strategy is that it rarely turns into a consistent stream of revenue. You might get a large windfall if you do a big one-time launch or a small trickle if you do something ongoing like putting a module in their course, but for the most part it’s not a sustainable strategy that will deliver you reliable & predictable revenue.

Option 3

This next option is something most course creators don’t consider for themselves, they see it as something they’ll graduate to when their business is at a certain size, but what I’ve found as the online course and social media industries have matured is that every single course creator can benefit from this strategy.

It’s paid social media marketing, specifically Facebook & Instagram ads.

The reason entrepreneurs feel it’s for larger businesses is because of the cost of ads, but if you consider the time and resources you put into other strategies along with the potential results, there’s really NO comparison at all.

Ads generate results for you much faster, and regardless of what strategy you choose, you’re still having to spend time and money, but with ads if you can generate a consistent return, why wouldn’t you invest in THAT strategy?

Plus, the potential for scaling is exponential. Yes it takes an increased budget but that will return more profit for you and only slightly more of your time.

Another reason people don’t think ads are for them is because they feel they can’t do it themselves, but I’m here to tell you my most successful clients almost always start running ads on their own and scale up to a place where they’re ready for the investment of support!

At EHM we’ve helped many clients completely change their businesses and lives with the support of paid advertising.

For example, Sam Vander Wielen, an attorney turned entrepreneur had seen great success from her course selling legal templates for business owners. Sam was tired of having to show up on social media to see sales of her online course. She had a family member with health issues that she wanted to be able to focus on more and she was also dying to feel like she could take a vacation without completely stopping her income flow.

Her initial goals were to scale her business with a consistent flow of leads and use the success of her evergreen funnel to convert those leads into buyers. Sam started with a one time strategy session and ran ads herself! She saw such success from her ads, she hired us to coach her on an ongoing basis and eventually became a full time client after seeing the results she was able to achieve with our strategy and coaching.

When she started as a full time client we were able to help her increase her return on ad spend from 2-3x/month to 5-8x/month. In just one launch, Elevate Her Marketing transformed $10.5K in ad spend to over $158K in profit!

This is just one paid ads case study, EHM has helped numerous clients achieve massive results from running paid Facebook & Instagram ads, we’ll share more stories below.

For now, let’s drive deeper into the specific benefits of this type of marketing strategy for online course creators…

The Endless & Intricate Targeting Capabilities of Paid Advertising

One of the biggest benefits of Facebook & Instagram ads is the targeting possibilities.

First, you can reach people all over the globe with paid ads and you can specify who you want those people to be.

For example, you can target your ads to female Europeans that are 33-47 or to men from ages 25 to 55 in all English speaking countries.

That’s not all though, you can also target using filters like certain hobbies, shopping habits, education levels, and more. The specificity of targeting is like nothing the marketing & advertising world has ever seen. Think about television or even hashtags from your organic efforts, with those marketing channels you can define a couple of things, but with Meta ads you’re able to get extremely granular.

Sure you could do this with hashtags organically, but you can’t also specify the location, age and gender of the ideal audience you’re looking for. With organic you could essentially get your post shared to a country where people don’t even speak your language or an age group that can’t afford your product.

The reason you’re able to target so specifically with paid ads is the data that’s been collected from all the actions people take on social media. It helps to categorize people into certain ‘interests’ and from there we can filter down to the type of people we’re looking to target!

Right now we have a client selling educational products to women who want to sell their handmade crafts on etsy. In the last month we generated a return of 2.72x on their ad spend (specifically, they spent about $3,600 on ads and they generated $9,830 in revenue!)

A large part of being able to see this type of result is due to the target capabilities that are available inside the ads manager platform. Some of our most successful audiences for this client are:

Women of all ages, living in the following countries: Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States. We also narrowed it more by specifying that the women are interested in certain crafts like beadwork, workwork, cardmaking, crochet, embroidery, and more.

Reach Your Own Audience With 100% Confidence

Another massive benefit of the targeting capabilities of Facebook & Instagram ads is the Meta Pixel! This is a piece of code that’s embedded in your website and funnel softwares. It tracks the actions people take throughout your business’s ecosystem. THIS is arguably the most powerful tool in marketing today.

With organic social media marketing today you can’t even confirm that people following your account will see your content, never mind show them specific content based on actions they’ve taken.

The problem with organic reach is BIG, in 2023 if you had:

  • 500 to 2k followers: 37% of your audience saw your posts
  • 2-10k followers: only about 17% of them saw your organic content
  • 10-50K followers: about 12% of your audience saw your content
  • 50k+ followers: worst of all, about 5% saw your posts

You’ve worked so hard to grow your community and despite them saying they want to see your content by following you, if you’re only posting organically more than 80% of them aren’t seeing it.

But with ads everything is different!

You can categorize people based on the level of interaction they’ve had with your business and send them specific ads based on that. Say someone decides to join your email list and watch your webinar, but they don’t sign up for your online course. You can send an ad reminding them of the benefits of buying or that a promotion is ending soon.

You can also use the data that your Pixel collects to create an audience of people that don’t know your business, but “look just like” (in terms of data) your own audience. For example, with our clients we have them create audiences of people that have purchased their product, joined them email list, and engaged with them on Instagram and then we create a similar audience of people that don’t know you but “look just like”(based on data) those audiences of yours that are highly engaged!

Results are Light Years Faster Than Organic Marketing

With paid ads on social media apps, you won’t have to wait for months or years to see the results. You’ll start seeing impressions, clicks, and leads almost right away!

It can take weeks or sometimes months to optimize a full online course funnel that delivers you consistent sales, but it’s also possible that you will see purchases on day 1! This timeline is very dependent on your specific business and funnel, most of our clients start to see a positive return by month 2 or 3.

When our client Esther Inman, creator of the Virtual Assistant Internship course, started working with us she was running ads and selling around 20 course spots per month. In just a few months we were able to increase that to somewhere between 100-200 per month!

We did this by helping Esther improve her ad messaging so that it was compliant with platform policies. Her ads were getting rejected for marketing products Meta doesn’t allow (she didn’t have this type of product, it was just the messaging in her ads that caused red flags with the algorithm.)

Another messaging shift we made was to focus on what her ideal audience needed to hear to convert (more about how the course would help them achieve their desires vs. the specific details of the course.)

Ads are the fastest way to figure out what works and what doesn’t with your messaging. To truly figure this out you need a significant amount of data, which comes quickly with ads; organically it will take you forever to get enough people to view your content (unless you’re already a large account, but we know that even then most of your audience won’t even see your content.)

We also researched new audiences to target and in just a few weeks they started delivering over 50% of revenue!

Continuous Growth (Across Your Entire Business)

Ads will grow your leads and course sales but you’ll also see massive growth elsewhere in your business.

  • Our clients report that their Instagram followings grow like crazy with the help of ads. When our client Sam Vander Wielen started working with us, she had around 5,000 followers and ads have helped her grow to over 36,000 followers. [The work and time it would take to gain 31,000 followers organically is astronomical, think years of time and resources.]
  • Another client of ours recently let us know that since starting ads, her IG bio link Stan Store has seen a massive increase in sales since starting to run ads (they sell digital products, other than the one we’re marketing with ads) through the store. [This is without doing anything different in her organic marketing, in fact she posted a bit less after starting ads!]
  • Every client we have that also has a podcast sees similar results in that their podcast downloads and reviews skyrocket from the traffic ads bring to their shows! [Organically to grow your podcast you’re left marketing it to those that follow you or are on your email list, so increased visibility would take building an entirely new strategy, where with ads it’s simply a byproduct of work you’re already doing.]

When you’re running ads for your online course business, you don’t just see growth with the one thing you’re marketing with ads, but instead your entire business grows. It’s like a 2 for 1 deal but instead more like 7 for 1!

Low Monthly Time Investment Needed to See Results

I’ll be really transparent and tell you that getting your campaign built and set up does take a solid amount of time, but once it’s running you probably need about an hour a week, on average, to keep things going.

Weekly you’ll want to review your ad results and make changes to optimize the ads. You’ll also want to track your data in a report so you can better analyze overtime and recognize any patterns.

Monthly you’ll need to create new ads (we like to create a handful of ads so we can launch them throughout the coming weeks) which does take a couple of hours. While we do recommend testing new ad creatives fairly often, we do find that some clients can run the same ads for months and see good results.

You will also have to optimize your funnel (landing pages, lead magnet, emails, etc.) but that’s something you’ll be doing regardless…right?!! 😉

And that’s it! When you’re in your first year or so of running ads, the time commitment really is minimal.

The Bottom Line

While online course creators were able to scale their businesses with organic social media marketing, it’s nearly impossible in today’s competitive landscape. You deeply love educating your audience inside your course & programs, you don’t want to spend all of your time playing puppet to the organic algorithm.

If you embrace the power of paid Facebook & Instagram ads, you can unlock the limitless growth you’ve been working towards for your business. Your business will be seen every single HOUR of the day by new potential customers, you’ll grow your email list daily, and scale your course sales to heights you truly never thought were possible.

All of this will allow you to focus on living the daily life that you dreamed of when you started your business. Most people don’t do this because they’re scared to invest money, but they don’t realize how much time they’re wasting in the process. Your time and freedom are the most valuable things, you created a business because you understand that, as you grow and scale it, investing to get more of this back is exactly what makes it worth it.

This looks different for everyone but it could be having the ability to only work 20 hours a week so you can spend most of your time with your family.

It could also look like hiring a team so you’re no longer a solopreneur and having the space to create all the ideas that you’ve been keeping a running list of, but were too busy to implement working on your own.

Maybe, it looks like having the freedom to work from anywhere and traveling somewhere new every few months or living in two different countries!

Whatever your dream is, having an online course business that consistently delivers you profit is what will make that possible for you.

But don’t forget that seeing success with a paid advertising strategy requires a strategic approach. You can google or listen to the gurus telling you there’s just “one trick” that will allow you to see wild ad success, but the truth is you need an honest partner that will support you through the process.

Have a Look at What Course Creators Like You Achieved with Our Help…

Something you need to know is that you can run ads on your own, but if you want to do it in the most strategic & efficient way, you will need some kind of support.

In my experience, the clients that see the most long term success are those that start with running ads themselves (with coaching or consulting) and then hand their ads over to someone as they scale. It’s the most economic way to add this strategy to your marketing efforts.

This is where EHM comes in. We’ve helped countless women launch their very first ad campaigns and grow to have advanced strategies that bring in thousands or hundreds-of-thousands a month from ads alone.

I can go all day to talk about how working with EHM will be a game changer for you. But I think it’ll be more impactful if you hear from some of our clients.

Christina Galbato, Online Educator, Marketer & Investor

“Literally in the first three months of working together, I grew my email list by 10,000 new subscribers and earned a revenue of over $100,000. That’s the first three months.

And then over the next year of working together, my email list is now over 100,000 new subscribers, super-targeted for the audience that I want. And we consistently see a return in our ad spend between two to six just depending on the month. So every single month has been profitable for my business working with Elevate Her Marketing.

I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Facebook ads are the number one best thing, or best investment that I’ve made in my business for the entire time that I’ve had my business.

They have been completely transformative both in terms of the number of people that I’m able to impact with my online courses, in terms of revenue generation in my business, in terms of my mindset and the security that I have working online, and also just, I don’t know, it’s expanded the realm of what I consider possible for myself and my business.”

Annette Grant, Co-CEO Thanks for Visiting

“Our ads are getting about a 2x ROI on our ad spend! The team is very responsive to questions via Slack, and we appreciate the calls where we go over our ad data together.
Working with EHM feels collaborative, and when it comes to ads, we feel it so important for the ad agency to have a deep understanding of their client’s brand so that everyone can win and; so far, we think EHM has a desire to understand who we are as a brand so we can find our ideal customer over and over again!”

Shawn Myner, Business Coach

“Strategy Parties are THE BEST! They truly take out all the guesswork on how to set up and run successful ad campaigns for your courses. I took the strategy Frannie created for me in my first Party and went from making $2k/month from my course to $10k/month, then to $20k/month!
I’ve now had a second Party to get a strategy for scaling even further, and I’m confident that will happen. HUGE thanks to Frannie and the EHM team for taking something seemingly so complicated and making it so doable. My business runs smoothly and easily because of my ad strategy.”

So, what’s next?

That’s where EHM comes in. We offer different levels of support but my personal favorite is having clients start with our Strategy Party (pretty much all of my most successful clients start here!)

This is where we create a customized ad campaign for your unique business, based on information you provide us and our past experience of working with businesses just like yours for the last 10 years.

We provide you with everything you need to know in order to build your first ad campaign and even connect with you for a follow up call a few weeks after you launch your ads to ensure everything is working smoothly!

Don’t worry if you’re not a techy person, we’ll hold your hand through that stuff and provide a number of video resources in case you get stuck!

Wondering how much you’ll need to spend on your first campaign? It really depends on your goals, course price, and a few other things. But it’s very likely you can get started with just $500-$1000/month.

Sign up for the Strategy Party Waitlist:

If you want the support of a team that has been working with online course creators for over 10 years to scale their businesses with Facebook & Instagrams, starting with a Strategy Party is for you.

During the 90-minute session, we will personally analyze your business, audience, and product in order to build you a customized ad campaign roadmap. This roadmap will tell you everything from exactly how to set up your campaigns, to the budget for each part of it, it’ll also tell you who to target and guide you on how many ad creatives to create and test! It’s truly every single thing you need to launch your campaign.

We’ll also have a follow up call with you after you launch your ads in order to help you optimize them to success!

We open up spots a few times a year.

Get yourself on the waitlist…you’ll have first dibs on booking spots when they open up in the future AND you’ll receive a free Ad Results Calculator so you can see what type of results you can expect when you launch your first campaign!

    Share this post!