Most product launch preparations are conducted in complete secrecy, and putting your unreleased product into the hands of beta testers during that time can be very scary. Thankfully, there are a number of simple best practices that can significantly increase the security of any beta test, without requiring a ton of effort.
1. Announce Your Test Quietly
You should limit the announcement of your beta test recruitment to the smallest audience possible while still ensuring you still have an adequate number of testers for your project (generally 5 to 10 times the total number of testers you want). This greatly decreases the odds of any competitors slipping in.
2. Preface with Confidentiality Obligations
The initial announcement of the test is also your first opportunity to stress the importance of confidentiality. Before testers even apply, they should have a clear understanding of these requirements. This is also the first place to make it clear that competitors and members of the press are not (currently) welcome in your test.
3. Recruit Testers Selectively
It’s important to be selective about who participates in your test. All candidates should be taken through an application process that surveys them for key information. While most of this information is intended to see if they fit your target market, the same information will give you the opportunity to look for red flags.
4. Limit Your Tester Team Size
It’s simple math — the more testers you have the greater chance that someone will leak information, unintentionally or otherwise. Given that industry average beta participation rates are in the range of 20-30%, most companies are forced to over-recruit to achieve their testing and feedback goals. Keeping your team small can greatly reduce the risk of leaks.
5. Always Require an NDA
First, always have a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place. The NDA is your first and best tool for ensuring secrecy. It spells out to the tester that you take this very seriously and that there will be consequences should they decide to share any details. Everyone fears legal issues. The concept of a large, well-funded company setting its legal sights on them will induce substantial dread in nearly any person. It’s important (and fair) to use this anxiety to your advantage.
6. Explain your NDA in Plain English
It’s important to clearly communicate the specific details of your NDA to every tester. How many of us have clicked past a legal notice, license agreement, or some other important form without reading a word? Don’t let the tester get off that easy. Remind them about what they’re signing and always go the extra step to spell out the terms simply. It’s helpful to cite specific text from the NDA and then remind them of the consequences of ignoring the agreement.
7. Maintain the Secrecy Message
It’s also important to consistently evoke the concept of secrecy throughout your communication with testers. Subtle details such as having “confidential” noted on beta documents or sending periodic reminders via email about confidentiality help people understand the importance of security. If you keep secrecy at the forefront, so will your testers.
8. Time-bomb Beta Software
While unlikely, the threat of piracy should be considered in every beta test. In an effort to address piracy risks, all beta software should include an expiration date at which point it will stop functioning. While this won’t deter the most technically-astute pirate organizations, it will limit the (far more likely) risk of exposure from casual piracy.
9. Clearly Identify Beta Status
It’s important to clearly mark your product as an unreleased beta product. For software, make it clear that the software is a beta release (big red message on loading screen, title bar, etc.). In the event of a true product leak, it’ll be clear to users that the product they’re using is incomplete and not representative of a purchased product. For physical products, we recommend going beyond writing “beta test device” on the product. If possible, include serial numbers and other details so that testers realize the hardware can be traced back to them.
10. Contain Their Excitement
We live in a world of constant information sharing. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter encourage users to share everything they experience. Unfortunately, this completely opposes the confidential nature of beta, where testers are expected to keep their most interesting news and experiences completely private. Thankfully, this is easily combated by providing a secure outlet for these users, most commonly as an online forum. By providing a forum for your testers, you’re not only allowing them to openly share their experiences, but you can also leverage this feedback to directly improve the product. In this case, you’re simultaneously encouraging privacy and increasing tester engagement by giving them a reason to come back every day.
These tips are from our eBook: Keeping Beta Tests Confidential. If you’d like more in-depth best practices for maintaining beta secrecy and handling information leaks, download the full eBook for free.