One of my clients last week asked me about beta blogs: why, how and what’s the tradeoffs? It got me thinking both back to 2004 when I first started a blog as a brazen and shameless way of getting some attention for my first microISV product. And it got me thinking forward: If I were a developer in my 20s who preferred being at the top of the payscale instead of the bottom, would I blog and if so what about?
If you are that archetypal 20’s developer, working for The Man but burning with a desire to do a startup, I see three blogs in your future:
1. A “professional me” blog where you get to geek out about the languages, frameworks and algorithms you get to play with. That blog will be your communications endpoint as a developer; it’s how you connect with other developers blogging, how you build a body of posts over time that prove your technical chops to prospective clients, employers and partners.
Professional blogs are just that: professional. Skip posting the cell phone pics from your last big party, complaints about your boss and other personal stuff. Instead, share your passion about what you are spending most of your waking hours doing, cool techniques that save you time and in general, reach out to the online programming community.
2. Your private beta blog. Somewhere between being a gleam in your eye and being credit card bait, your desktop app or SaaS needs some place that makes it dirt easy for your private beta testers to funnel you honest feedback. Note the word private. It used to be that betas were periods you traded free software for a chance to try your app out on a variety of other people’s boxes; Google’s perpetual betas and the realities of Internet marketing circa 2008 have moved “beta” from the engineering to the marketing column. Put another way, everything on the public ‘net is beta.
But private beta testers are another matter: they are doing you a huge favor and the easier you make it for them, the better your results will be. You want to create a trusted place on the net where you and they can say things not part of the public discourse about your product or service.
For example, you can create a free blog at wordpress.com, password protect it and only make it available to beta testers (35 or less: if you have more, spring for a workpress.com upgrade for $30/yr.). Or you could do the same thing at Vox.com, with the catch that your beta testers would need to create free vox.com accounts. For that matter, you could create a blog at TypePad and initially password protect it.
The point is, you want to make it as easy as possible for your beta testers to give you real feedback. And blogs are all about feedback.
3. Your product’s blog. Actually, product blog is a misnomer and a pit trap: you don’t want or need a product blog, you want and need a blog about the intersection between your [prospective] customers and your expertise, passion, perspective and occasionally product. If you’ve launched a startup or microISV, presumedly you know a lot more than the problem domain your product or service lives in than do your customers. Share that knowledge and passion – it’s a great way to establish your expertise, authority and standing.
You can start your product blog before, when or after you launch; blogging is one of the best ways a startup or microISV can get the word out and get market feedback in. Just go light on the marketing mayo and provide your readers with plenty they can sink their teeth into: everything from customer stories to solutions, workarounds and fixes that complement your product are fair game.read more