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Why You Should Start A Beta Program Today (And How To Do It)

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 26, 2014 5:30:00 AM / by Molly Wolfberg

If you’re looking for an easy way to get started with some user research around your product and really find out how your product fits with what your users need and want, a beta program is one of the ways to feedback and get the product in the hands of users quickly. If you’re just getting started, a beta program does takes some time to get going. But after that, it’s basically just maintenance. By definition, a beta test is a trial of software in the final stages of its development, carried out by someone not directly developing the product. Beta tests give you actionable feedback and useful data that will make your product measurably better. Once you see how valuable it is to get users’ eyes on features prior to releasing them, you won’t go back. Beta testing helps you see if users will actually use a feature, where as other research, like customer stories, personas and usability testing, tell you if something is valuable and usable.

 

1. Create a beta program page with a form

You’ll need to have a place to send users who want to get involved with the beta program. Share this link with other members of your organization too, in case they have some willing users. This page should accomplish a few things:

  • Explain the benefits of joining the beta program (you gotta convince ‘em!)
  • Detail the requirements of being a beta program member
  • Give users a place to sign up

There are a ton of benefits to participating in a beta program, but there’s a chance your users don’t know what’s in it for them. Make sure you’re outlining that for them. Also, discuss the expectations that come with being some of the first eyes on your new features. Here's an example email you can use to explain:

HubSpot beta testers get early access to the features the development team is working on. The program is exclusive - only made up of the most beta-tolerant and sophisticated of HubSpot users. We want to make the software better for you so we want thoughtful feedback on each new release from our testers. How useful did you find it? What bugs still need fixing? What could be improved, added, or taken away? Keep in mind, this program isn't just a walk in the park. Being a part of the beta group at HubSpot is a commitment. It means you agree to use some software in your daily life that is bound to be a little rough around the edges. It also means you’re willing to take the time to help us smooth out those rough edges.

You can check out my beta site, as well as the form that users have to complete to sign up. When writing up your beta application form, there are a few essential form fields to include:

  • Ask users to rate their comfortability with bugs and issues
  • Ask users to rate their willingness to provide feedback
  • Ask users to rate their most used aspects of the product (if applicable)

You need to be able to segment your applicants by their level of beta tolerance, as well as by their most used features. This segmentation will help you create focused lists for each type of feature you might release to the beta program and ensure that your releases are as relevant to your individual beta users as possible.

2. Invite users to join the beta program

You probably already have a hefty email list of users who have opted in to hear from your organization. If your marketing team is wary about giving you this list, fight for it. Users love talking to the people who are building the product they use. They WANT to hear from you. Trust me. Send an email inviting your users to learn more about your brand new beta program. Explain to them with the benefits of getting involved, a link to your beta program page, and let the responses pour in. If you don’t want to reach out to users via email, you can include a message directly in your product or website asking users to join the program.

3. Turn on beta features for select users

This is when your beta program gets going. But before you release your first feature to your new beta program, you’ll want to do a few more things. First, choose which users to include, based on the segmentation you did in the first step. Start small. Segment your submissions based on comfortability with issues and willingness to provide feedback. Even if that only leaves you a few users who are truly “beta tolerant,” that’s perfect to get started with. If it’s relevant for everyone in your program, include them all. If it’s only for a set product level or use case, only send it to those users. Quality of fit is more important than quantity of sample size. Next, compose an email detailing the feature release you’re introducing. Make sure to include why this makes your users’ lives easier. Include screenshots and try to answer any questions in the email that you expect users will have. Give them a place to provide feedback, whether it be in another form or a forums post. Reassure users that you’ll get back to them if they have any questions and really value their feedback. Here’s an example of a recent beta release email I sent out.

betaemailexample
An example of a beta email I've sent.

4. Collect users’ feedback 

forumspostexample
A beta release forums post.

We go about this a few ways here at HubSpot. For some beta releases, we compile all of the feedback into a document and share it with the team. For others, we direct users to a dedicated forum thread where they can discuss the feature with other beta testers and get direct answers from members of the product team. The forums post definitely feeds discussion and gets the testers getting ideas from each other, as well as potentially seeing they are not the only one who loves or is struggling with the beta tool. If you only have a small set of users, you can just request they email you their feedback and you manage it yourself. Once your program expands, consider other options like a feedback form or forums post.

There are lots of long-term benefits to starting your beta program today. By the time you’re ready for more in-depth user research, you’ll have a cracking good database to get started with. You can ask your beta users to participate in usability testing. You can send product development surveys to your users to gather more general, large-scale information about them. A beta program is an excellent first step in collecting feedback and demonstrating the value of user research long-term. So why not start today?

Topics: Usability Testing, ux, Beta Testing

Molly Wolfberg

Written by Molly Wolfberg

Molly mainly talks about dogs, donuts & UX research. She's currently running user research at Wistia, a video software company for businesses.