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Test Closure

Rewarding Your Beta Testers with Incentives

September 30, 2011

As you might expect, beta testing incentives are a popular topic. In fact, “incentives” is one of our most common Google search keywords. Testers want to know what they get for participating in betas, and companies want to know what’s appropriate to offer them. As it turns out, being conscientious about your approach to incentives is very smart. There are several key things that companies need to be aware of when it comes to rewarding their testers. We talked about many of these issues in our free eBook, 100 Tips for Better Beta Tests, but they’re important enough to warrant a second look in the blog.

Let’s start with some basics:

(1) Incentives are rewards for participation in the beta. You only want to give incentives to the people who earn them. How are they earned? By meeting the expectations you clearly set for your testers at the beginning of your beta. If a tester doesn’t meet his or her responsibilities, then you shouldn’t give them an incentive at the end of the test.

(2) Incentives should remain secret until the test is over. This is one of those lessons companies often learn the hard way. We’d like to save you the trouble. If you announce early on what the incentive will be, there are two common results. If the incentive is amazing, people will start going overboard with their participation (i.e., providing unhelpful fluff) just to make sure they get it. If the incentive isn’t exciting enough, people will quit on your test. Thus, the best practice is to keep the details surrounding your incentive secret until the test is over. In other words, let the tester assume you’ll be fair — and then be fair.

(3) Incentives make a lasting impression on your testers. People don’t usually think about this, but the incentives you give today have a continuing effect on your beta program in the future. By giving an expensive incentive, testers will expect the same in your next test. You might find yourself sifting through excessive, unhelpful feedback and/or disappointing your next batch of testers if you can’t maintain the expensive incentives. Conversely, if you give testers something they don’t value, they’ll feel exploited. If your testers feel like you don’t appreciate them, they’re unlikely to participate next time.

Of course, what you probably want to know is what makes the best incentive. We usually recommend the production version of the product you’re testing. People signed up for a reason, after all. They wanted to use your product. They’d probably like to continue using it. Testers are rarely disappointed when you go this route.

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t make sense to use the test product as the incentive. If your beta product is a $2,000 laptop, testers will understand if the reward for participation is a little less expensive. Another popular incentive is gift cards for major retailers like Amazon. Not only do Amazon gift cards offer great flexibility, they also have the benefit of being instant gratification if you give out redeemable codes. (Bonus: If you’re using Centercode, you can use the Distributed Values feature to pass out gift codes easily and reliably).

Beyond that, you’re free to get creative with your incentives. James McKey, from Symantec, wrote a guest post earlier this year about innovative ways to reward beta participation. You might also consider extra incentives for your best testers. You want to make sure they come back often.

We should also point out that people often appreciate rewards that are more like mementos than incentives (e.g., “Beta Test Team” t-shirts). Reinforcing your beta testers’ special role in shaping the final product is a nice gesture that usually doesn’t increase the cost of your beta tests much.

In parting, keep in mind that the incentive is only one part of the overall impression you leave with testers. Expressing your thanks regularly, engaging with your testers throughout the process, and responding to their feedback is just as important to building good relations. In our experience, incentives aren’t even the primary reason people join beta tests. Often times, beta testers are just fans of your product or technology in general and participate for the exclusivity.

How do you incentivize your beta testers? Please leave a comment!

Download our free eBook: 100 Tips for Better Beta Tests
Image courtesy of Flickr user lemonhalf.

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