You’re a few weeks into managing a beta test for a new product your company plans to release soon. You get an email from someone on your beta team that there has been a leak online. One of your testers took a picture of your company’s new gadget fresh out of the box and posted it on social media. It’s only been public for a few hours, but already, a few tech blogs have taken notice and reposted the photos on their websites. Your leak has officially gone viral! What do you do? What can you do? How should you respond?
While leaks during beta testing are rare, they do happen. When they do, it’s not always easy to figure out the best course of action — partly because it’s impossible to create and effective standardized response. While there are concrete actions you should take (especially if a beta tester is responsible), every leak is different. Depending on what kind of information was released, and how it made its way to the public, your response will alter accordingly.
Not All Leaks Require Damage Control
For the most part, companies are afraid of leaks during beta because it becomes harder to control the public narrative around your product during your release. That being said, a leak doesn’t always have to be bad news. A leak can provide certain opportunities that, while not planned, you can sometimes capitalize off of.
In some industries, leaks are strategic — even purposeful. It’s not uncommon for companies to use leaks to increase consumer awareness of their new product in an effort to generate buzz. In some cases, savvy marketing departments can spin a leak into a positive media story. In other cases, companies will purposefully leak information to get free publicity and to encourage market-wide discussion.
There are a number of good reasons why maintaining secrecy in development is important. That said, in a traditional private beta test, the project is conducted only weeks before release on a product that is nearly complete. If you have suffered a leak in that time, your product is in a state of readiness, and consumers are responding positively to the leaked information, then use your leak as a form of publicity. There is no reason for you not to turn that lemon into lemonade by leveraging the leak to help generate more interest in your product.
What Leveraging Your Leak Looks Like
If you know your beta leak has gone viral, get in front of it. Talk to your marketing or public relations department about possible ways your company can turn the initial responses you’re receiving into more positive consumer awareness. Usually, any type of response that attempts to leverage a leak will mean working directly with the press. This will include reaching out to journalists, as well as tech blogs and other online writers, and encouraging them to write about your product.
In the cases where your leak goes viral but you’re receiving negative feedback, there are still ways to benefit. For instance, if a certain feature is leaked and its initial reviews are mostly negative, it gives a production team time to fix it, remove it, or possibly even deny that it was ever a part of the original product.
Hopefully, over the course of your career as a beta manager, you won’t experience many large scale beta leaks. However, if you do, don’t panic. It is likely that the leak will not require much more than an a swift and effective initial response. The other times, when your leaked information does go viral, there’s a chance it can be turned into something positive with the right PR and marketing decisions.