This seems like a no-brainer. Having a beta users group will help you perfect your product.
We all know that, but after over a year since AutomateIt beta group was launched, we cannot believe how crucial that is to our app.
Our beta group is about to reach 1000 members and the ones that are already part of that group helped us so much in the last year, that we had to share some of the insights we got from running that group.
Users who join your beta group are your biggest fans. They join because they love your app and want to be the first to try out new features. It’s the most supporting group you can ask for, and they will give you honest and to-the-point feedback.
In return, they expect you to be responsive and have their opinions, thoughts and suggestions to make a difference in shaping your app. It’s not a written contract but in a way, they become part of your team and should be treated as such.
Usually, users who join this type of groups are tech-savvy and can help you investigate issues and bugs that not any user can. Sometimes, even by running debug tools on their device!
Providing support to your users is always a challenge as you are trying to understand what was happening a few hours or days ago, on a device that might be the other side of the planet and you have no access to it. Any assistance from the user improves you ability to provide adequate support and resolve the issue, whether it’s a bug or not.
Having a large number of users makes it difficult to do quick cycles of development and release an update. You don’t want to “spam” your users with too many updates and it’s too risky to publish an update that might break things if not tested on a significant number of devices.
You could purchase a ton of devices, hire a huge QA team, train them to use your app and do that by yourself, but this will still not get you the results you are looking for since users tend to use your app in a way that no QA team can emulate…
On the other hand, don’t abuse that. It’s true that beta testers are more patient with things breaking than other users (it’s what they “signed up” for), but releasing too many non-working or untested releases will exhaust their patience. Keep in mind that they can always leave if feeling used or abused.
Another aspect of having a large number of users is that when you were just starting and had a small number of users, providing support and personal attention to each user was easy. When getting to a large audience it gets difficult. Having a closed group of users gets you back the almost-one-on-one feeling that you had when you were just starting. Think of that as a rock band that used to play in small bars and now plays in stadiums. Wouldn’t they love to go back to that excitement and provide that personal touch from time to time?
As the group grows, you’ll see that not only you get bug reports, but also solutions and workarounds for the same bugs. As said, these users tend to be experts with using your app so they can be the ones to find a workaround for a non-working feature.
This happened to us lately with the Lollipop upgrade that required adjustments for several functions. Users were sometimes able to find solutions even before we got to investigate the reported issue.
On the technical side of managing a beta group with Google Play, Google has made it extremely easy to use and in fact there is no reason not to to that. The only down side (for some) is that it is based on a Google+ community that not all users are passionate about, but in most cases, this is nothing to worry about.
Today, we cannot imagine releasing an update without our beta group getting it first. It usually takes 2-3 cycles to fine-tune new features as we get great feedback and suggestions with each update (in fact, more than we can handle…).
The way we see it, a beta group is not a “nice-to-have” thing, but something you absolutely must have. Keep in mind that it requires your attention and adds another way of communication you need to manage, but well worth it.