Q: Where's the PR line between a soft launch and a launch?
A: Whether you are an online service or a local eatery, having a soft launch is a solid strategy to put your business through a stress test. Before putting your official stake in the ground and opening your gates to the public, a soft launch allows you to fine tune your operations and identify areas of improvement before issues are exposed to the masses.
When preparing for a soft launch, several elements of PR come in to play that help identify influencers and bring the right people in to test run your business.
By invite only
One of the benefits of a soft launch is that many elements are in your control. From email-gated beta testers to an opening night, you can personally choose who and/or how many people you want to let in to try the goods.
For example, leverage social media to reach out to influencers within your market (whether locally or in your niche vertical), sending an invite link to RSVP or to enter an email address for beta access. By limiting the type and number of people you let in, you can better control the message and know who is experiencing the first version of your product or service.
Create social mystery
My business partner and good friend once told me, “with mystery, comes opportunity,” and creating sense of mystery online inherently piques curiosity. Leading up to and during the soft launch, tease that something is coming on your brand’s social-media profiles, offering up (for example) partial images, a hint of a recipe or an app screen shot.
During the soft launch, encourage your select influencers/beta users to share their experience on social media and make it easy for them to find your Twitter handle, blog, Instagram account and Facebook brand page. Your social profiles should be easy to remember, consistent, and linked to on your site. Consider also posting your social profiles in your physical location, listing them on business cards and all collateral. Even if you end up with only a handful of influencers talking about your brand, your message grows exponentially and people will want to find out what’s next. Be sure to follow up with each influencer via social media after your soft launch to encourage social sharing as well.
Mini media relations
A soft launch is not the time to make widespread outreach to the media. Remember, you are putting your business through a stress test and you want the results of that test back immediately to refine your business before opening the floodgates.
A very targeted media outreach strategy, however, can drive significant volume -- both online and foot traffic. For example, we had a web app client at BLASTmedia who was seeking 5,000 beta users to allow in for platform testing. We decided to offer a consumer tech blog an exclusive demo with the founder, which resulted in a “first look” review of the service and drove 3,000 of the first beta sign ups.
The same goes for your local media. Research and choose the one editor, blogger or journalist who would have the most influence on your target demographic and invite him or her for an exclusive interview or personal experience with your brand.
Keep in mind that, once you’ve moved on to your hard launch and are ready for widespread media outreach, you will need to have another angle or “newness” factor to your story in order to secure additional coverage. The media will see that you have already been covered during soft launch and will be asking you what today’s hook is.
No matter what launch phase you are in, be sure you have put your business through the proper paces before inviting the general public’s opinion. Social media and blog comments from the vocal minority will persist, but being proactive and prepared will help control the naysayers.