As a product manager, your responsibility is to ensure new products and features are successful. The only way to know if your creation is a product fit is by testing it on a select group of users with the help of a beta program.
What is a beta program? A beta program is a community of users and customers who you can rely on to test new features and products, and provide you with feedback along the way. These people are typically your most active users; people who know your product the best. Their feedback can be so impactful it changes your product roadmap. A beta program also allows your users and customers to deepen their emotional connection to your brand. It gives them a chance to make an impact, and be part of your brand’s story.
Beta programs benefit both parties involved. It gives companies a chance to receive invaluable feedback during the product development phase, and it gives users an opportunity to be part of the story.
At Mobilize, we’ve seen many customers—like Meetup—experience the power of beta programs. After testing new features, and maintaining ongoing communication within a strong beta community, they launched a rebranding and new apps in 2016. Internally at Mobilize, we’ve also experienced the power of an amazing beta program. In fact, it recently reshaped the direction of our product roadmap when we launched our mobile iOS app.
In this article, we’ll discuss the nuts and bolts about what it takes to build a beta program from our own experience, most recently our journey to launching our first mobile app.
Step 1: Make a Detailed Plan
While this might seem obvious, our first step was to make a very detailed plan based on the proposed timeline we were given by the product team. Our plan included the following:
• Goals• Metrics for Success• Proposed timeline• Customer requirements• How we’re collecting feedback• User communication timeline• Communication timeline• Pinned posts (user knowledge center)• NDA details• Feedback surveys
While beta programs can have a variety of goals, our focus was to confirm the quality and usability of the mobile. We needed to have user confirmation that the app was engaging. We also were prepared to use the feedback to optimize the UI/UX of the app.
Our metrics for success were based on engagement: how many active users were in the community, and were they providing feedback?
Step 2. Decide If It’s an Open or Closed Community
It’s important for brands to establish before launching the community if it’s going to be an open community or a closed one. For us, we wanted users to have the ability to support one another throughout the testing phase. We thought users would be able to inspire each other to think about what they’d want—or don’t want—within the app. For this reason, we chose to have an open community. However, for companies who are only looking to receive generic feedback, keeping the community closed is always an option.
Step 3. Create a Knowledge Center
When launching a beta program, testers must be set up for success. We have found the best way to do this is by creating a FAQ page which acts as a help center for the beta program. Using Mobilize, we uploaded files with instructions on how to use the app, and answer all of the questions we anticipated they’d have about the beta program.
4. Recruit Beta Testers
Once we felt completely prepared to present a robust beta program to potential testers, we started the recruitment process. Traditionally, companies rely on landing pages or Google forms to recruit beta testers. These are both good options, but since we were already creating the community on Mobilize, we used our own registration form to recruit people. This made it easy for us to get more insight into who these testers were based on the customized profiles we asked them to create.
5. Announce Your Beta Program
During our official announcement, we sent an email to 542 customers asking them to join the program. Eventually, we recruited 65 active testers who would contribute, and shape the way of our mobile app. Once we launched the program officially, it was important to keep an eye on activity and to continue to think about how we could keep them engaged. Like any community, we had a few members join but hesitate to download the app and start testing. When we noticed this type of behavior, we relied on smart follow-ups to re-engage the user.
6. Collect Feedback
In a beta program, any kind of reply is a good reply because you’re always learning. The goal is to learn what customers like and don’t like. For the mobile launch, we relied on surveys to collect feedback. We also held feedback one-on-one feedback sessions with the product team to facilitate a live and open discussion. This made the process more authentic and created a real sense of community with the testers.
In addition to a survey, users were able to provide feedback in a less formal way via discussions since we opted to keep our community open. Using the Mobilize communication feed, users started discussions on specific features and their unique uses cases. Our built-in analytics gave us immediate insights into who was engaging in the discussions.
Step 7. Make Iterations
Finally, once we felt we have a sufficient amount of feedback, it was time to go back to the app and make edits. We eventually made a key change to our roadmap and added a feature to the app—profiles—based on the feedback we got. We wouldn’t have learned about the importance of profiles had it not been for our thriving beta program. When this happens, make sure to let your testers know that they’ve made a big impact on the future of the product.
Step 8. Say Thank You
A successful beta program can’t be complete without a sending a proper ‘thank you’ to your testers. It’s so important for this community to be thanked for their participation, and to make them feel part of the brand and love from the brand. This is a huge part of fostering community, and a good way to make them feel involved.
Life After a Beta Program
The hardest part at first is building a beta program. But once you’ve launched one, this is only the beginning of the possibilities that can come from this community. This community should go on to live forever. Your beta testers can be references on the new product, too.
Remember, it’s important once the testing phase is done to keep them updated on the launch of the product. They should be the first ones to know, and they will be able to help promote the new product/feature proudly.
Building a beta program is a very rewarding experience, and one all companies in different industries can create.