Tag Archives: beta

New Online Community: Having a Beta Period is Important

FailUnfortunately, 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.

Online Communities Fail Publicly

I’ve been spending a significant amount of time thinking about the difference between traditional, static websites and online communities as more companies start to make the leap into online communities. In the past, when you created a traditional web site, only your employees could tell how many people visited and interacted with your site. You could hide the dirty little secret that only 10 people per day visited your website, since only the employees with access to your analytics would ever know the truth. In other words, websites fail privately.

Online communities, on the other hand, fail publicly. When you launch an online community and nobody participates, you fail very publicly. Anyone visiting the community can see that people aren’t participating, and it can be damaging to your brand.

Because communities fail publicly, it is important never to launch a community that is empty or nearly empty of content. You need to provide some content and set the tone for the community. It’s like attending a party with a dance floor. If no one is already dancing, it can be hard to get people started, but once you get a few people on the dance floor, others will take their lead and join in a similar fashion.

Here are a few quick tips to help make sure that your new community succeeds:

  • Have a content roadmap and plan for content. Participation takes work, and it won’t magically happen without a little work on your part.
  • Seed some content prior to launch. Create a few discussions with questions designed to stimulate conversations, and post other content that participants might find interesting.
  • Run a beta with your favorite 10-25 people (depending on the size of the effort). These could friendly customers or people in your industry with interesting ideas.
  • Promote your community and encourage your early beta testers to help get the word out about the community.

Spend the time during the planning phases of the community to make sure that you have a plan for the content and the resources to execute your plans over the long term. If you can’t get the resources or don’t have enough time to devote to the community, it might not be the right time to launch a community, and a static website might be a better choice for now.

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