What We Learned: Our First 312 Digital Course
A week ago, we held our first digital marketing training class in Chicago. The class was called Introduction to Digital Marketing. Our goal was to provide some broad brush stroke concepts to our students, giving them a high level overview of four different disciplines within the digital marketing umbrella: Content Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media and Analytics.
The best feedback we’ve received thus far is through our feedback survey we sent to students after the class. We asked students “would you recommend 312 Digital courses to a friend?” So far we’ve had a 100% of our respondents say YES! That’s great news, but writing about events like this helps me structure my key takeaways and to embed the lessons I’ve learned. So I wanted to take the time to write a debrief of how things went last week, what we learned and how we plan to make some subtle changes to make our future courses even better.
I know the post is a bit long. If you’re interested in what we’re building here at 312 Digital, I think you’ll find it interesting.
We had 36 confirmed tickets for the event. 29 of those tickets were paid, and 7 received a free ticket (we reserve a small handful of free tickets for speakers and for 312 Digital to give away). Two people originally confirmed were unable to attend. All 29 of our paid customers attended the course, which was a great turnout!
The people who took the course came from a variety of backgrounds. Some were business owners, while others had specific responsibilities as content marketers or community managers. One of the more interesting (to me) groups was a duo of executive recruiters who attended to get a better idea of exactly what their customer businesses needed when hiring in these verticals. Smart.
The event was held at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce training room. The room was the perfect size and is very conveniently located in downtown Chicago in the AON building. The room isn’t quite perfect though. Because the screen isn’t back lit by the projector, we kept the front set of lights off, which meant our speakers were in a somewhat darker area of the room. Also, the seating is not tiered and the screen was a little bit difficult to see for people in the back of the room. Both of these areas received comments from students in our follow up survey. We’ll definitely be staying with the Chamber location for some time, so we’ll have to find a way to work around these limitations in the future. I think one way is to maximize the use of the top half of our slides and to try to limit the amount of important information we place on the bottom of slides. I’ll also be encouraging our speakers to do more wandering around the room, if possible.
We also had a few minor issues with the wifi in the venue. I’m not sure if there were just too many people piggy backing off one signal to make that a useful conduit. For future classes, we’ll investigate bringing multiple cellular hotspots into the room as backups.
Also part of the “location” was the food accommodations we had for our students. Unfortunately, we ran out of coffee in the morning and did not address that quickly (but will definitely do so next time). Walked down as a group and grabbed lunch at Sopraffina in the building by using a voucher system. We weren’t very clear when we announced the plan to our students, so next time we’ll be sure to let them know they can bring lunch back into our room or eat downstairs at the restaurant. There was some confusion among our students about that and I assume responsibility for the miscommunication. That said, I thought the food was good and that Sopraffina offers a variety of options for our students. We’ll definitely continue to lunch there for future courses.
We scheduled the day in four 2-hour increments. Each content block was planned to be approximately 90 minutes of presentation and discussion (Q&A). The presentation was then followed up with a 30 minute small break out session among attendees where they were encouraged to talk with each other about what they learned during the previous 90 minutes and how they planned to apply that information to their business in the coming weeks.
The 30 minute breakout was a very good idea that needs some tweaking to be better. First, 30 minutes was too long. In our future classes, we will be reducing this time to 15 minutes and reducing the total time in class by 1 hour. This class went from 8 AM to 6 PM. Future courses will end at 5. Second, we will be encouraging students to mix and learn from others instead of doing these sessions with people at their table. Third, I will be encouraging our speakers to be available during this time to mix in with the students and provide feedback and further answer questions.
Another key takeaway happened because of a mistake. My plan was to have printed versions of the slides available during the day of the course for every student. But, we got one of the slide sets at literally the 11th hour and were not able to get the files over to the printer in time. I made the option available to students that would send them printed copies after the event. Only 8 of the 34 attendees requested a printed copy of the slides (we made the slides available to students during the course so they could take notes directly within PowerPoint). Here’s the conundrum with printing the slides – to print the slides the way I would have liked to would have cost us over $5,000 just for that class. That’s subverts the business model and is too big a burden to bear. Printing them in black and white and 2 slides to a page is more affordable ($1000) but doesn’t keep the quality feel I want associated with the brand. So this may be a case of “if you can’t afford to do it right, don’t do it at all.” The current plan is to make slides available on demand in print, but to encourage students to bring laptops with for taking notes and viewing slides on their laptops.
The Speakers & The Content
We had four speakers and the feedback we’ve received about their knowledge and performance was uniformly high. Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media spoke about content marketing and keyword research. Carolyn Shelby of 435 Digital, the digital consulting arm of Tribune Corp spoke about SEO. Mana Inoescu, President of Lightspan Digital spoke about Social Media. And Dave Rohrer, a senior SEO consultant spoke about analytics.
The survey we sent to students after the event has been completed by about two thirds of our attendees. Amazingly, despite being sick before the event, Andy received perfect scores from our attendees. Every single survey marked him a 5 out of 5. Mana was a very close 2d, coming in at 4.94. Carolyn and Dave received very solid scores as well hovering just above 4.
Of the feedback we received, the consistent theme was that the SEO and Analytics content was a little bit advanced for the attendees, a little too technical or went over people’s heads. I’ll admit to being a bit confused by this because both the speakers and their content are still receiving marks in or near 4 out of 5. Only 2 or 3 students have marked those sessions as a 2, but we’ve received about 5 or 6 comments along those lines.
I’m treating this as my main takeaway from the day’s events. My goal is to ensure 312 Digital provides awesome content, well delivered and expertly timed for our audience that day. This means I need to be clearer about who can best benefit from that day’s materials and also do a better job of reviewing the content with speakers that they plan to present so we can ensure they are targeted appropriately. It might also be helpful if I reviewed the list of attendees with the speaker as they prepare their slides so they can have better information as they are creating their content.
The Business Model
Overall, I believe this event was a tremendous success. The event was profitable. We proved that 29 people would pay to attend a training class like this. Believe it or not, there were many doubters. The model has promise. Obviously, we would have been even more successful had we “sold out” (each class is planned for a maximum of 50 attendees to keep the classes small). But even at 29 paid attendees, we made a healthy profit.
One of the big successes from this event is the way we used affiliates. We worked with our speakers and other local business owners and to create promotional codes the students could use when signing up for the class. Use of those codes would trigger a $100 savings for the student and a $100 affiliate payment to the referring agent. I love the idea of the affiliate model because one of the many goals of 312 Digital is to build a number of communities and to be a community resource to each of those communities. I want our students to build a community together, and to pull on each other as resources. I want our speakers to form another community – where we can all learn from each other. Utilizing the affiliate model creates another potential community – a community of affiliates – where we can plug in and add value. I see a lot of benefit this using this model and I plan to expand our efforts and outreach in this area.
I would much rather pay an affiliate fee for every ticket we sell, enriching members of our local community for sending business our way than pay money to “market” the business through offline advertising or other means of driving awareness and interest.
Of the 30 attendees, 10 used promo codes to receive discounts and 8 of those promo codes triggered an affiliate payment from 312 Digital to other business for helping send the students our way. My goal is to double these numbers for our next class, if possible. We’re on track with 100% of the students we have lined up for our next class have used an affiliate code.
All in all the event was a huge success. 100% of attendees said they would recommend 312 Digital to a friend. That’s a huge win for a any start-up. So for that, I’m incredibly thankful. I’m also driven to improve on this impressive start by getting even better and will use the lessons learned to tweak future events for the better.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to give a HUGE shout out to Andy, Carolyn, Mana and Dave for helping get 312 Digital off the ground. Also, Lisa Pugliese and Heather Acton who gave of their time to help out the day of the event and make sure everything went smoothly.I’d also like to thank Kurt Scholle for acting as the photographer at our event and to the Attention Era team (Aaron Biebert and Ryan Jon Sheetz) for doing such a professional job shooting video. I’m excited to see the video they are in the process of editing from the day’s events. We’ll share it with you as soon as we have it!
Lastly, there have been a bunch of people who have acted as my personal board of advisers as we launched this business and event. Special thanks to them for their great ideas and feedback – and for putting up with my personal brand of crazy over the last several months. You know who you are.