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This is the third and final article in my beta testing series, which has included articles on How to Find Ideal Beta Testers and How to Motivate Beta Testers.

Have you ever wondered why some sites or products seem to simply explode onto the market? Some of the techniques that these companies use to seed and grow their userbase can be applied to your beta programs, helping you build a passionate, evangelical beta testing community that is willing to speak up when release time comes around. Let’s look at a few examples, and how the tactics that made them such a success can be applied to your beta program.

The User Acquisition Arc as Beta Launch Model

beta testing launch
First, let’s focus on a single foundational element: attracting and retaining users. When you are building a beta program, approach it the same as you would if building out and launching a community or userbase. Dave McClure popularized the pirate metrics as a way to define and metricize five plateaus in the user journey:

  1. Acquisition: How do you find users?
  2. Activation: Do users have a great first time experience?
  3. Retention: Do users come back?
  4. Referral: Do users tell others?

These same steps apply to the lifecycle of a beta program. As I previously wrote in the first two posts in this series, there are distinct steps you can take to acquire, activate and retain your beta testers. You can also increase the odds of a returning tester turning into a referring tester; it’s not a formulaic process, and requires deep, sustained effort to really pay off.

Cautionary note: You might be wondering, “What happened to the fifth metric, the most important one for building a sustainable business: Revenue?” Well, a beta program is not a revenue stream. Don’t look to monetize beta participants — it sullies the feedback stream and can lead participants to feel (even more) used rather than objectively trusted. Still need convincing? Check out what I wrote about Beta Testers — or “tasters,” with an ‘a’ — in my previous post.

Case Study #1: eero: Why Beta Testing Is Fundamental for a Successful Launch

eero created a home wifi system which launched to much fanfare in 2016 and earned rave reviews. In this post on First Round Review, Kelly Neary and Paul Nangeroni discuss how important the beta program was to the overall success of launching a stupendous product: “As contained dry runs, these tests not only surface insights that help refine a product release before its launch, but they also lay the groundwork to engage early adopters and groom brand champions.” If you plan on running a beta at any point ever in your life, this article is a must-read since it explores just how much effort goes into running a successful beta.

From Beta Testers to Evangelists: Case Study #1 Learnings:

As First Round writes, “Nangeroni and Neary recommend closing the chapter with the beta and offering options for early users to stay engaged. ‘Start by sharing the milestone with them. Launch day was a defined achievement to celebrate together as well as another opportunity to check in. It’s very much like a graduation,’ says Neary.”

Case Study #2: Product Hunt: Why An Overnight Success Usually Isn’t

beta testing time

Ben Gelsey wrote a fantastic teardown analysis of the Product Hunt community and the steps co-founder Ryan Hoover took to build it out. It’s a long read, and well worth spending the time to digest. The subtitle sums it up: “An Overnight Success 1,834 Days in the Making.” He dissects Product Hunt’s approach as a way to answer “What does it take to successfully launch a community site?”  The short answer, as Ryan Hoover outlined in an early blog post:

  1. Target Influencers
  2. Indulge Early Adopters & Listen
  3. Make it Useful Without Users
  4. Create Exclusivity, Scarcity, Urgency
  5. Give Users Tools to Evangelize
  6. Seed Content & Communities

If one of the goals of your beta program is to convert some number of the testers into product ambassadors and build out an ongoing community, consider following this model.

From Beta Testers to Evangelists: Case Study #2 Learnings:

How does this apply to creating a passionate groups of beta testers? Points 1, 2, and 4 are all techniques you can use to attract, nurture and grow a community, while point 5 is a way to amplify your community’s comments. A bit more detail on each:

Building out a superlative evangelical beta testing community requires playing the long game. For example, the Ryan Hoover post referenced above was written nearly 2.5 years before Product Hunt’s earliest release, and evidence suggests Hoover was laying the seeds for launch that entire time. Short term thinking may get you immediate results, but not an ongoing relationship. Why go through the effort of creating a one-and-done beta program when you can build something with sustained longer term value?

Case Study #3: Kickstarter and Quirky: Engaging the Crowd Early and Often

Much has been said and written about Quirky (oh, sad, sad Quirky.). Much continues to be said about Kickstarter[a][b]. A brief primer: Crowdsourced product development, when done well, is a phenomenal way to engage potential users early on and to keep them involved throughout the process of defining, developing and launching a product. Quirky and Kickstarter are the best examples of the ethos of allowing the crowd to have a hand in all phases of bringing a product from nothing to reality. Both platforms encourage radical openness which in turn gives participants the option to follow its progress and keep some skin in the game throughout. By the end of the process, participants may feel that they helped birth this particular product, and like a proud parent, will want to sing its praises.

From Beta Testers to Evangelists: Case Study #3 Learnings

The techniques used by these two platforms echo many of the points above, and as someone running a beta program, you can learn valuable lessons from these businesses:

To Sum Up

Ultimately, the quality, and evangelical fervor of your beta testers will be a direct reflection of how you run your beta program. Quality and transparency beget loyalty. The Golden Rule applies equally well to kindergarteners as it does to those of us who run beta programs: Treat others the way to want to be treated. If you respectfully listened to beta testers’  feedback, provided timely and accurate responses, incorporated their feedback back into the product when it made sense to do so, and ultimately let them know how much you appreciated their participation in the program, odds are pretty high that many of your beta program participants will become brand ambassadors and will sign up to beta test your next release.

Steven Telio

About Steven Telio

Steven is a Product Management Consultant who specializes in defining and delivering stellar digital products. He has held senior level Product Management roles with a number of startups, including 4 which had successful exits. He has led projects in a variety of industries for organizations that include EMC, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Syngenta, Boeing, NASA, and Harvard Medical School, and began his career doing technical support for a medical device start-up, where he answered “patient-on-the-table” service calls from neurosurgeons.