Welcome to beta testing, the moment you get to (finally) find out if your potential user is going to fall in love with your creation. While it sounds so old school, the right type of beta testing can be an invaluable tool for so many reasons. At the end of the day you've got to have a positive user experience (with the right users) because the expectations are high and the competition is stiff.
Where Should You Start?
In order for you to run proper rounds of beta testing, you have to have one very important thing: an ultimate consumer profile based on accurate market research. Who is is your buyer? What do they want from you? How old are they? How much money do they make? Where do they vacation? What do they like in their coffee? ... You get it. If you have this right you can either; a) use this profile to match potential testers so your testing groups are solid, or b) use this profile at the end of testing rounds to only accept, analyze, and quantify the feedback from your potential buyers, and forget all the rest.
It isn't so much about getting feedback as it is getting the right feedback from the right people. If you're doing user acceptance testing, it only makes sense that you would test only your target user, so you have to be careful in your beta-test subject selection process.
Develop A Very Specific Plan
There are several ways you can go about beta testing and it is incredibly important that you have looked at the options, chosen what's best, and formulated a plan. Whether you go the route of a free trial download, paid users, internal users, or contracting out the testing, what matters most is that it's right for you and your product or platform.
If you've developed an external internet platform, you can actually recruit people that are already your customers or users to evaluate a new version, which most are happy to do. You can still run your existing production version and then have a beta environment that select users can go through and interact with the application so that if there's any unexpected adjustments, you can make them before you go into full production. As I mentioned, there are plenty of options depending on what you are doing.
Expect the Unexpected
As in, expect that there will most definitely be unexpected things that will happen, no matter what. You are venturing into unknown territory and with so many variables, there's sure to be more than one possible hiccup. Even the biggest tech giants have missteps. Like that time Apple unveiled their own map service, and then re-veiled it while apologizing profusely. Your success will depend on your determination and flexibility to go with it, pivot as you need to, and maybe even laugh a little bit.
Don't Be Afraid to Get Forceful
From a software standpoint, website standpoint, and app standpoint, brute force testing is so critical in the process. We actually do the same thing with hard products. We send them through test labs and run test simulations mimicking use over time, weight usage, and load testing. It is so critically important to make sure that you've evaluated your final product to the point that it can be, from a quality standpoint and a functionality standpoint, the absolute best version.
Be Careful of False Feedback
From a user's viewpoint, if a user is evaluating and says, "I like this, I don't like this. I want this feature, I don't want that feature" that can be great feedback. Unless you didn't do the footwork and don't have a solid consumer profile. If they're not mainstream consumers, you really have to be careful what you listen to. Sure, you adore Great Aunt Edna, but she probably doesn't know what's best for your new internet platform. And those early adopters might be your customers now but their advanced skill levels might not be helpful when trying to move forward into the mainstream market.
So there you have it, the ins and outs of navigating beta testing, your final chance to get it right before you go live. Make the most of the opportunity to avoid disaster, and possibly even failure. You only get one chance to make a first impression.