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Test Management

11 Tips for Maintaining Participation

February 8, 2013

We’re continuing our beta tips series with a crucial topic: maintaining tester participation during your test. Many beta tests suffer from dropping participation after the initial excitement of the test wears off. Below are some of our best tips on how to keep testers engaged and providing feedback. Looking for something more in-depth? Download our whitepaper on Reaching 90% Beta Test Participation.

1. Use Good Tools

At the risk of self-promoting, beta tools matter. Giving beta testers access to good tools for sharing their experiences helps ensure that you actually get feedback. Tester-friendly and well-organized beta tools build momentum early in the test. On the other hand, if your testers struggle to share data with you or have to juggle a bunch of different tools (and separate user logins), they’re less likely to participate. There’s a reason why we see an average of 90% participation in our beta tests, and the Centercode platform is a big part of that. Beyond reducing tester participation, a collection of disconnected tools also makes it much more difficult to monitor participation as a whole, as well as work with the incoming feedback.

2. Throw Out the Bad Apple

One bad tester can spoil the whole bunch. If you have a person who is excessively abusive, negative, or offensive, it’s important that you pull them from the test. Otherwise, you risk letting that person ruin the experience for your other testers. The more people are negatively affected by a bad tester, the less likely they are to participate. So, effectively, you’re not only hurting your other testers, but your product as well.

3. Rely on Open-Ended Questions

You can really encourage participation by relying on open-ended questions. When you ask simple yes or no? questions, you’re closing off opportunities to learn more about what participants think of the product. They might have had great feedback if the question asked why or how instead of yes or no. There are times when you might have to use simple, closed-ended questions — particularly toward the end of long beta tests, when participation is dragging — but these types of questions should be a fallback rather than a standard.

4. Use Expedited Shipping

If you’re testing hardware, use overnight shipping when possible. The added expense comes with benefits. First, it’ll help you ramp up the test faster. Everyone experiences launch lag, but when your product spends less time in transit, you get shorter test phases. Second, it sends a very positive message to your testers. By spending more on overnight shipping, your testers will see that you’re just as eager as they are to start testing the product, giving them an added push to get started.

5. Practice Creative Thankfulness

We always encourage you to thank your testers early and often. They really respond well when you show them that you appreciate their feedback. By offering positive reinforcement throughout and incentives at the end of your beta, you’ll be well on your way to making your testers happy. If you want to build an even more positive relationship though, consider adding something creative, unique, and commemorative into the mix. Tester team t-shirts, for example, show your appreciation and add an extra sense of exclusivity to tests.

6. Be a Good Moderator

This means being careful to watch for tangents and diversions. They’re a natural part of beta testing, especially when you run discussion forums for your testers. But if testers start to focus on one thing for too long or become mired in unproductive discussions, don’t be afraid to gently steer them back to the charted course.

7. Emphasize Exclusivity

One of the best tools at your disposal for building a sense of community is the exclusivity of beta testing. Testers thrive on that idea. It makes them feel like they are special as well as part of something special. The result is a more dynamic community of beta testers that are highly-motivated to help shape your product.

8. Avoid Over-Releasing

It can be a fine line, but try to keep product updates to a minimum during your beta. On one hand, updating your product during beta does show responsiveness and gives you a chance to perform regression testing. On the other hand, too many updates can frustrate your testers and discourage participation. Even simple software installations can get tedious if you subject your testers to them regularly (hardware can be much worse). And if you release updates frequently enough to become predictable, people will stop testing in much the same way as if you were announcing upcoming builds.

9. Don’t Demand Conformity

Beta testers are all unique. Sometimes it’s better to adjust the test to accommodate them rather than to force them comply with specific demands. For example, while user forums are a great way to keep users invested daily, some people just aren’t social enough to effectively utilize that channel. In that case, asking for daily update journals can be a better option that produces the same results.

10. Act Quickly with Idle Testers

The longer you let idle testers slide, the more it makes it seem like you’re not serious about participation requirements. Give your testers a gentle nudge if you notice they haven’t been providing feedback regularly. A simple email showing them what they’ve done and what you expect from them will get most people engaged again. If you let it linger, they will think you don’t care and then it will be too late.

11. Keep Your Opinions to Yourself

Testers are easily swayed. If you express that you like or dislike anything related to the product, they’ll demonstrate an aim to please. Suddenly, your data will trend toward those opinions. If there’s a need to share an opinion, be objective. Point out the good and bad of both sides or ask questions that make testers think about the idea. The only time you should use strong opinions is to encourage or discourage a discussion.

Want more tips? Download the full set now.

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