Unfortunately, when an online community fails, it fails publicly. Anyone visiting the community can see that people aren’t participating, and it does not make a good impression. Whereas, traditional websites fail more privately, since only the people with access to your analytics know for sure that no one is visiting the website. Because a failure to get participation is so visible, it is important to launch with some seeded content from real people, in other words, your beta testers.
With any new community, always run a limited beta with your existing customers or a few potential customers if your company is still new. There are many benefits of running a beta.
- You can get feedback and make improvements in the community before you launch. This allows you to fix mistakes, clarify any items that people find confusing, and make the community better than it would have been without the feedback.
- You get a good base of initial content from people outside of your organization or project, so that when you launch, it already looks like an active community.
- These existing beta users can help promote the community by bringing in coworkers, friends, and others who might be interested in joining your community.
Tips for running a successful beta
- Build relationships first. If you don’t already have relationships with your potential beta testers, stop everything else and build those relationships to get to know your audience.
- Before you build anything, talk to people and get their ideas. Share your plans and ideas while getting some initial feedback to make sure that you aren’t started down the wrong path. This probably involves some phone calls and meetings outside of the online space.
- Start small and grow. Start with a few people in your organization and expand out a few people at time while making incremental improvements before bringing the next wave of people on board.
- Listen, listen, and listen some more. During this beta period, you should spend your time listening to feedback and figuring out ways to make your community better.
You’ll know that you are ready to launch when you have finished working out any big issues and when you have enough activity that you are proud to call your effort a community.
Photo by Flickr user hans.gerwitz used under Creative Commons.