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Test Launch

11 Tips for Recruiting Beta Candidates

September 20, 2012

This is the second installment of our Beta Tips blog series (first installment is here). Today we’re tackling recruiting beta candidates. If you want amazing beta testers, you need to start with a strong pool of candidates. These tips should help you recruit the right people and set the right expectations for your test.

1. Recruit Much More Than You Need

Not everyone who applies for your test will be a great candidate. Some won’t meet the basic technical requirements; others won’t match your target market; and some will demonstrate a lack of skill in clearly communicating (thus making your life much more difficult down the road). It’s generally best to recruit at least three to five times more candidates than you actually plan to select, allowing you to choose only the most qualified beta testers. If you can get more, that’s even better (we generally aim for ten times as many).

2. Promote Exclusivity

It’s a good idea to let testers know that not everyone will be selected. For one thing, it reduces the feelings of disappointment (and sometimes Internet rage) among those who were not selected. However, it also emphasizes the importance of participation right from the very first interaction with your beta project. If applicants know that they’re signing up to become one of a limited number of participants, they’ll understand that there’s a higher degree of responsibility with that application.

3. Start with an Application

It’s almost always beneficial to present interested candidates with an application survey containing 5-10 questions that they’re required to complete. The goal of every question should be to help you identify the best testers for your specific product. Generally speaking, what you’re intending to do is identify candidates who: match your target market; are responsive and effective communicators; pay attention to detail; and are genuinely excited about your company, product, or similar products.

4. Recruit with Open-Ended Questions

One great way to increase the value of your application survey is to include a couple of open-ended questions. Asking something like, “Why do you want to beta test this product?” will act as a mini-interview process, allowing the tester to demonstrate the type of effort they’re likely to put into feedback during the beta itself. These short answers can be invaluable in narrowing your pool to the most effective candidates.

5. Keep Your Recruitment Vague

You want people fresh and unbiased when they receive the product. Your recruitment messaging should entice them to sign up while hiding the details of the actual product. That way, they’ll be excited and interested in exploring the product once it arrives. Furthermore, it provides you flexibility and eliminates issues with tester expectations.

6. State Clear Requirements

If your product (or beta phase) has specific requirements (hardware, software, demographic, geographic, or experience/knowledge), make certain that they’re clearly communicated to all test candidates. If essential, take extra steps (such as additional surveys or even personal phone calls) to verify that candidates meet the requirements. Recruiting testers who literally cannot participate (no matter how bad they want to) is a huge headache for everyone involved.

7. Set Participation Expectations

It’s crucial to always let your testers know exactly what’s expected of them in a beta test, from reporting bugs, to completing surveys, to participating in forum discussions with other participants. We find it best to first set expectations during recruitment, again after selection (at the test kickoff), and once every couple of weeks throughout the test.

8. Identify Any Costs

Beta testing is voluntary, and as a general rule, should incur no costs to participants. If there is a cost of ANY KIND associated with participating in the test (for example buying paper/ink for a printer being tested or data rates on a mobile phone), go out of your way to cover the costs yourself. If for some reason this is impossible, make it very clear to every tester before they sign up.

9. Set Manageable Time Commitments

When a beta program has participation problems, it’s easy to view testing time in extremes. You grow accustomed to seeing many participants give little to no time, while others are heroes who treat the beta like a full-time job. What you want to avoid is letting that mind-set carry over into your beta plan by building in significant time commitments but expecting only a few to keep them. Instead, establish a realistic commitment of time and effort from each tester but expect that they will satisfy it. It also doesn’t hurt to plan special rewards for those that go the extra 10 miles.

10. Use Social Networks

Social networks are an awesome way to find participants. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn all provide you with a free and simple mechanism to track down great candidates. If your company has active social media marketers, start a dialog and enlist their help. If you have to go this route alone, tools like TweetDeck, CoTweet, and HootSuite allow you to monitor relevant conversations across social networks.

11. Look Out for VIP Testers

“During the prospecting process, it will become evident that some customers are more likely to provide good feedback than others. A subset of the beta participants will warrant extra attention and support during the program as they are more likely than others to help you reach your targets. Identify these premier companies early. Make all internal parties in your company who are involved in the beta program aware that these special firms will be monitored closely, and if needed, given additional help and support to ensure they are successful in the beta. Assign named technical resources to these sites to better ensure their beta program success. The product management team should work especially close with these customers, visiting them or engaging in additional contact to help resolve issues that arise.” – Jeff Crawford, Adobe

If you’re recruiting for a beta test, be sure to check out our other resources, as well as our blog posts on places to recruit candidates and using personas in recruitment. And don’t forget to share your recruiting protips in the comments below!

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