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Test Launch

The Risks of Running a Public Beta Test

June 13, 2014

Public (or “open”) beta tests have become incredibly popular in recent years as big companies have added large public beta tests into their development processes. The increased buzz and excitement about an upcoming launch that often comes with a public beta test can certainly build momentum around a product. But, as some companies can attest, this type of beta testing comes with some very serious risk — risk that can sink a product before it’s even out of the gate.

Let’s look at some of the risks companies face when deciding whether to run a public beta test, as well as the steps you can take to minimize them.

The Public Response Could Be Negative

The Risk: Every company hopes their public beta test will be a chance to create buzz and excitement around their product. Users will rave, the media will swoon, and customers will line up to get their hands on the real thing. However, as some companies have shown, a public beta test can just as easily be dominated by negative coverage. If testers have trouble using the product, or find it to be too buggy, or simply don’t like it, you can bet those messages are going to dominate the discussion. And once that genie’s out of the bottle, there’s no going back.

The Solution: Complete rigorous private beta and stress testing phases first. This will ensure that you learn about all the nasty bugs and unhappy users before you place your product in the spotlight. It will also ensure that your infrastructure can handle the load of that many users. By the time your product reaches the public beta phase, it will be ready to shine.

Your Team May Get Overloaded

The Risk: While a much smaller percentile of testers will provide feedback in a public beta (compared to a private beta) you could still be receiving hundreds of repetitive bug reports and thousands of requests for support if the public beta is large enough. Depending on your team’s size and preparation, this could bog down your entire team and risk delaying the product’s launch. Also, if testers have no way to give you feedback or get support during the test, they may get frustrated, which could turn them against your product.

The Solution: Plan ahead for both feedback and support, and then communicate these plans to your testers. Put a feedback loop in place so that your testers can submit their feedback easily and your team will know what to do with it (even if that means just put it aside for now). Also determine your support level ahead of time. If you don’t have the bandwidth to provide full support, that’s okay, just communicate the expectations to your testers so they understand the situation and know what they’re in for.

You Might Turn Off Your Users

The Risk: If your user experience during the public beta is bumpy, your early adopters may decide that your product isn’t worth their time. This means that even while you may not get a bunch of negative feedback during your public beta, you could open your doors on launch day only to find out no one is there to buy it.

The Solution: While running a private beta prior to your public beta will give you a lot of insight into the user experience before your public beta begins, you should also develop a strategy for enticing your public beta testers to become customers. This may include discounts or exclusive content for testers that provide feedback during the public beta test, or recruiting those testers to be members of your private beta tester community for future tests.

Something Unexpected Will Happen

The Risk: When you first open the floodgates for thousands of testers to try out your product, you can’t always predict what will happen. They may use the product differently than your team expected, putting different stresses on your infrastructure or breaking the product entirely. You may end up getting testers that aren’t members of your intended market and have different needs and expectations. Whatever the surprise may be, the only thing that is certain is that there will be at least one.

The Solution: Run your public beta test in phases. Don’t let everyone in at once. Start with a small group (much smaller than you think it needs to be), then look at the analytics and feedback you receive. You can add more and more testers and continuously assess the success of the test. This gives you the ability to pull the plug at any point if the test goes south, while minimizing the damage. It also has the added benefit of allowing the testers waiting in line to become excited for their turn.

Exposing your pre-release product to the public spotlight is a risky endeavor. But, the benefits of a successful public beta test can make it more than worth it. If you plan carefully, you can mitigate these risks and increase the likelihood of reaching your marketing and sales goals.

If you’re looking to run a public beta test, download our whitepaper on using Public Beta Tests as a Launch Tool. If you’d like to learn more about private beta tests, check out our resource library or download our whitepaper on Keeping Beta Tests Confidential.

Download Public Beta Tests as a Launch Tool

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