You know that beta you want to get into? The one all the cool kids are in? The one that is invite only and that you have absolutely no chance of getting into? Yeah, that one. Maybe you have a chance of getting into it after all. Try these tips to get in on that awesome experience.
The thing about betas is that the developer running the program really does want a wide variety of people to test out his new project. Betas are all about putting a new product through its paces, letting both hardcore users and people who will just use it once in a while do everything they can to it. Heck, developers even want the most technically inept folks they can find in a beta: they want to see just how a website, software package or other product is going to break as soon as anyone can use it. And anyone can include you.
Sign up. The first step you should always take to get into any sort of beta is to go to the company’s website and sign up. Unless you have hit a special level of internet celebrity, no one’s going to contact you specially to invite you to the beta. They don’t know that you’re interested without that original sign up form.
Offer a review. While this trick tends to work better if you have a significant writing portfolio, you can often contact the company offering the beta directly. Try to contact someone in the PR department, but anyone with the power to grant invites is good. Then simply offer to review the service if you can get in on the beta now. Have a specific site in mind — if you want to post the review to your blog, be able to mention your readership numbers. Otherwise consider lining up the opportunity to guest post on a larger blog.
Network. It seems like the internet is huge, but the type of people participating in any particular beta really are a subset of the population. Think about the type of people who wanted Brightkite invites as soon as the site went into beta. Most were Twitter users — a group that may seem huge, but doesn’t even add up to a very large city. Odds are surprisingly good that one of your friends is already in the beta, or may even know someone on the development team.
Stalk via social networking. Maybe ‘stalk’ is too strong of a word. I don’t mean that you should show up at the house of the guy in charge of beta invites or anything similarly felonious. However, it seems like most companies maintain a presence on networking sites as well as a company blog these days. Engage them in conversation through comments, links, etc. and they’ll be more inclined to invite you into a beta. Making sure that a company is aware of your existence can be the fastest track to scoring that awesome invite.
Build your reputation. If developers only let the cool kids into the beta, maybe it’s time to become one of the cool kids. Setting up a blog of your own only takes minutes. Give it a few months and you can turn yourself into a known expert on whatever widget is only available in beta. Becoming an expert may not get you into this beta, but it can definitely up your chances for the next one and all the other cool betas that are still down the road. Building a reputation as the go to person on a given company can also get you into all of that company’s betas, along with all their competitors.
Use cheat codes. Like any good system, most betas can be gamed. Back in 2006, there were folks itching to get into the Yahoo! Mail beta. But Yahoo! Had put a few restrictions on the beta and many people just couldn’t get access, until they found out about a cheat code. Apparently, switching locations for an old Yahoo! Mail account to the U.K. was enough to get a person booted straight into the beta. While not all betas have such super easy cheat codes, try Googling for them after the beta has been running a few days.
Keep up with the media. If you follow the media that covers the niche of your beloved beta, you might notice that many blogs and news websites routinely give away beta invites, special codes and the like. Of course, these are usually limited to the first 20 or so people, so you have to be fast.
Try the invite-swapping sites. There’s nothing wrong with trading invites, although super popular betas may not have enough invites floating around to make this an ideal method. But sometimes it works. Back in the day, when Gmail invites were hard to come by, I managed to trade for an invite. I didn’t swap another invite, though. I offered up fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Think outside the box when offering a trade.
Once you’ve actually gotten into a beta test, it’s up to you to be a good little beta-tester. Report problems, email praise and generally comment on that product still in development. After all, that’s why companies open up beta tests — and why they invite some testers back again.