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Leveraging the Power of Beta

Given the popularity of ‘Beta’ websites, it is surprising that very little is written about them, especially in the online marketing world. “Beta” is a term used to describe a website or online service (e.g. Facebook, flickr or several of Google’s services) that is in a development phase, but is not ready to be commercially launched.

The Beta theme is a potentially powerful tool for online marketers because it acts as a cue to website visitors. Basically it indicates that, while a website is designed to provide a certain type of experience, its present version may not be able to satisfy visitors’ expectations. As with many websites in development, visitors may encounter functionality problems, navigational issues, missing tools, and a whole range of possibilities.

Launching a website that is in a Beta phase can result in two positive outcomes for website owners. First, it can generate forgiveness from visitors if they experience problems. In those cases, instead of people being deterred from returning, they will be more likely to give the website another opportunity at a later date.

The second benefit is that Beta can encourage people to participate in a website’s development. For virtually every Beta website there will be visitors that, if they can see the potential value of the site, have the motivation to help develop the experience by providing suggestions and feedback. A person who engages in the act of contributing may also become a powerful evangelist for the site.

I emphasized the word ‘can’ above because it’s important to understand that to foster forgiveness and participation, the Beta concept must be leveraged – but how? I had to answer this exact question at the company I work for, MovieSet, and so I began to review a number of Beta websites using the Top 100 Beta Websites list as published on this Museum of Modern Betas Blog.

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