Social media isn't just about campaigns or brand engagement. One of its often overlooked uses is for product testing, right from the blueprint designs, through different iterations to delivery. In this series, I'll look at the various steps from conceptual testing, to building word of mouth and creating brand advocates, to launch and final delivery.  I'll explain how to use communities and customers as a testing resource.

So once you've got your beta product ready to go, the first thing you'll need to do is recruit a beta community to test it. Maybe you're testing an app you hacked together overnight. Or launching a venture capitalist backed start-up. Either way you'll need people to try your unfinished, buggy product or service.

Your organisation may have access to a ready and willing consumer panel, but if you don't, social media is a great way to find your target audience. For example,  UK forum Mumsnet has its own product testing forum. They offer a huge range of products and services for mums to try out and report back on. Magazine publisher, Future, also road-tests concepts and designs for new magazines

Generating feedback with a beta community

Handing over your pride and joy to a mob can be scary. But it's a pivotal step in attracting and building knowledge about future customers.

The most honest and useful feedback will come from those first few strangers. You can learn more from a beta community than from weeks of internal testing.

One worth mentioning is My Starbucks Idea, an ideas community started by Starbucks for customers to post their ideas for a better Starbucks experience or product. 

The community can vote for or comment on ideas submitted, and the conversation is continued on Starbucks’ social networks.

 

MyStarbucksIdea.com

 

 

 

 

 

Tools and techniques

There's a host of tools for attracting testers to your beta community. Place ads using Facebook ads or Google Adwords (don't forget to connect with Google Analytics). Or you could dive right into developer forums. Perhaps list yourself in a beta directory like BetaLi.st or a start-up directory such as StartupLi.st.

Alternatively, use coming soon sign-up forms to build an audience and create interest. Landing page products like KickoffLabs collect leads and generate referrals. Or there's a WordPress theme called Launch Effect  that you can use to build out yourself.

Mixing, matching and outsourcing

You could always bring your sign-up form together with a start-up community like LaunchRock

LaunchRock screenshot

It provides a platform to create and understand your audience with an array of extensible apps to keep building, growing and generating insight. 

It might be more than you want to take on yourself so you could always outsource some of the work to a company like uTest. Or perhaps you want to keep both options open. Companies such as Centrecode sell both beta testing software and services so you can choose how much of the process you manage. Check out its Online Beta sign-up to see what the experience looks like for beta testers. 

Building buzz on social media

Next in this product launch series I will explain how to build social media buzz for your product. Taking that beta community and turning it into word of mouth marketing is the next crucial step in connecting with - and keeping - your valued customers.