Once and for all: A beta test isn’t enough to create buzz

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It’s old news, it really is. But since I get confronted with invitations to beta tests everyday (in my role as a blogger, as a freelance consultant and as project lead for German blog magazine blogpiloten.de), I can promise you that a lot of PR agencies still think a beta test is enough to get bloggers to write about your product, and thus to create buzz. It isn’t. Period.

Beta tests are important. If you’re a bootstrapping web startup, you need to release early and release often. In order to to that, you need constant feedback from your users. Potential users (and testers) are most easily identified by their blogs, so inviting bloggers to your beta test makes a lot of sense.

That said, inviting bloggers to test your stuff just to get their attention and save money on marketing is a really, really bad idea. If you don’t allow for the feedback they’re willing to give, you’re being unfair, both to these bloggers and to your product. Whatever it is you’re developing, it’s not perfect. It cannot be perfect. So you’ll need that feedback, simple as that. Open feedback channels very early in the production phase. Post-launch is too late. Pretending to bloggers (who you should be trying to make your fans) that they have any influence that they don’t really have will almost certainly backfire, and badly so.

So, where does that leave us?

  1. Identify users who might be seriously interested in what you’re doing, for whatever reason.
  2. Invite them very early on in your production phase, so you can implement their feedback into your product.
  3. Give them feedback, respect, and credit. Lots of all of this. And then some.
  4. Make sure to hook them up with a free version of your product once it’s all set and done. They just put a lot of effort into your product, so you can make money off of it. It’s only fair not to charge them.