Long gone are the days when companies would wait until launch day to promote their product, and only then through mainstream media. New technology is now allowing companies to open up the development process, sharing their ideas and challenges as they develop the product.
By embracing a more open approach and building a community from the get-go, you can uncover the people who are most passionate about your product and enlist them to help you make it better – long before your product is complete.
In doing so, you build a sense of ownership in the people who will be your first customers and empower them to spread the word and get other people involved.
Here's an outline for how to engage these folks and many more:
1. Let go of secrecy.
You don't have to share everything, but you should be willing to open up to your community about unanswered questions and as-yet-unsolved problems. It’s a great way to gather and feel out suggested solutions, and it will also make you seem more human, making it easier for people to connect with you.
2. Brainstorm openly.
Early in the process, when the scope of a project is being determined, talk on a high level about the area you want to have an impact on. Then reach out to interest groups and thought leaders on that subject and listen to what they have to say. You’ll gather valuable knowledge and new perspectives, all while engaging more people with your project.
3. Make the call, then explain it.
Opening up your process doesn’t mean surrendering decision making to your users. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide in what direction to take your product, and that means seeing past short-sighted or impractical requests. If people ask for a feature you deem to be something that shouldn't be included, be honest. More often than not, they will understand.
4. Share as you go.
Screen shots, videos, and alpha invites are great ways to keep people excited as they see the product evolve (and, hopefully, see their own feedback get integrated).
5. Empower people to give feedback and cross-promote.
Sites like GetSatisfaction and UserVoice provide great ways for companies to track and resolve issues, field feature requests, and otherwise connect with their users. In addition, give your users every tool possible to spread the word about your new product: Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and anywhere else your users may reside.
If you are building a product that fulfills a real need, then there are people out there who will support you in fulfilling that need. The more you can empower those people to participate in the development of your product, the more momentum you’ll have on launch day – and, in all likelihood, you’ll have made a better product as well.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Tony Bacigalupo, founder of New Work City, a co-working space in New York City, and a partner at Shift 101, a workspace consultancy. Tony’s fieldwork feeds into the knowledgebase of the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develop knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.