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Start a Beta Program (With Nothing to Test)

[fa icon="calendar"] Mar 22, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Molly Wolfberg

When I started at my new job a year and a half ago, one of the first things I did was start a beta program. This seems relatively normal for a user researcher, except for one little thing: we didn’t have the ability to turn on beta features in our product.

You heard me. I started a beta program, with nothing to beta test. For almost a year.

At first, this seemed a bit backwards. Why have a big group of engaged, super users when you can’t even give them new things to test? There are a few reasons I did this, and it ended up being hugely successful.


1. Your engaged users will give you feedback on anything.

It doesn’t have to be a shiny new beta feature to get your users really excited and involved. You can use this group as a pool to pull from whenever you have any unanswered product questions. My group helped me prioritize which features to focus on, what to name a new page in our product and spent time going through mockups with me. To even join a beta program, they have to care about the product. They care less about what you show them, and more about just being involved.

2. Tell them about live features before you tell everyone else.

Even without feature flags or beta testing, you can release something into your product that might not be hugely obvious to the typical user. This is a great opportunity to email your beta group members and have them check it out, report any bugs and spend time using it before you get an influx of support emails after a customer-wide announcement. It’s like sneaky beta testing, and it’s the best.  

3. It’s easy to make these folks feel special & foster a community.

And they are special. Really special. They care enough about your product to sign up for a program before there’s even anything in it for them. It’s like an exclusive club -- being able to test the latest & greatest updates, no matter what those may be. Get them engaged and hyped up on participating so they’re even more excited when you can finally let them turn on real beta features.

Not sure where to begin? Here’s a few tips that got me started:

  • Poll your team for customers who they think would be an awesome base for the program. We had a set of ~50 users who were super engaged and everyone knew about. They were the first group I reached out to, and were really excited to be founding members.
  • Make it fun! We made a launch video that explained the beta program and why our “betapugs” are so valuable to us.
  • Let everyone know their feedback is really valuable and will be going right to the team building their software. Beta testers love knowing they’re making a difference. Whether that be by sending them a shirt, or giving them a Twitter shoutout, make it known you value their time.
  • Make the beta program a community! Participants can feed off of each other and provide some really great feedback when they have the ability to go back & forth. Consider enabling comments on pages when you release beta features or using a LinkedIn group.  

 So get out there and get started creating your beta program! You won't be upset that you did.

Any other tips & tricks for getting started with beta testing? Comment below!


Topics: Usability Testing, Customer Happiness, 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.