How to Nail In App Messaging for Feature Releases

Written by: Ty Magnin Ty Magnin 

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So you’re about to release that big new feature.

Your engineering team is running final tests and launch date is closing in. You’ve drafted a blog post and email announcement. But you know this feature could be a game changer, so you want to make this the perfect release.

You’ve heard that apps that communicate via in app messages have a 2-3.5x greater retention rate, so it’s time to implement. Here, we learn how to create effective in app messages:

1. Segment Your Users to Ensure Relevance

You want to be as targeted as possible in your feature releases. This way you can foster adoption for those who will benefit without disturbing those who won’t.

You may know how to segment your in app messaging already. If you’re not sure, take a moment to consider these three questions:

  • Is your feature for everyone or only those users on a specific plan?
  • Is it only relevant to certain user types or personas?
  • Is it for power users or for everybody?

Think about how you want to communicate to each user segment. Even if you’re releasing a feature to all users, different user personas may have different ambitions.

If you take the time to delight each user segment with thoughtful copy, it will help you build more motivation and increase feature adoption across the board.

2. Create Multi-Step In App Messages or Tooltips to Keep a User’s Attention

Oftentimes companies use in app broadcasts to announce a new feature, but then link users to blog posts to “Learn More”. See here:

in-app banner message example

These broadcasts are great to get the experience started in a non-intrusive manner. But diverting a user outside your product is a complete momentum killer that prevents users from engaging with your new feature.

Instead, create a multi-step experience that keeps users inside your application, clearly explains the value of the new feature, and drives users to action.

Not sure what this experience should include? Set up a usability test and record a user’s process and questions as they’re getting started.

Or if your company has Customer Success Managers, you can watch them explain the feature to a user during a meeting. CSMs have spent hours on the phone painstakingly pitching your new features to each client. Their tacit knowledge on how to explain the value of the product quickly can often be replicated and scaled with in-product experiences.

You want to wrap your new feature in a bow and hand it to your users as a gift. Interactive feature tutorials or tooltips do this much more effectively. Multi-step messages walk your users through the flow with a contextualized demonstration just as a Customer Success Manager would.

3. Storyboard Your Feature Tutorial

At this point, there is a lot to consider:

  • How should the messaging differ based on user segments?
  • Where should I start the in app messaging?
  • Should it start automatically or based on a user action?

This is where things can get daunting. But there’s an easy way to simplify the process and ensure you’ve crafted an engaging experience: storyboarding.

Make a 1-3 step list of the flow you want to walk each segment of your users through.

You can use a wireframing tool if you like. But an even easier way is to insert screenshots of your product to the background of a slide deck and add some messaging boxes like this:

tooltips storyboard example

Note: These storyboards don’t need to be pretty. In fact, that’s probably a waste of time. But it does help if you use a pointer or arrow to indicate what part of the software you are highlighting.

4. Implement Your In App Messaging

On a high level, there are three goals of your feature announcement:

  1. Build user motivation
  2. Explain how the feature works
  3. Drive users to action

In order to achieve #1 and #2, you’ll usually want to combine different UI patterns. Modals and overlays are good to build motivation because they give you more real estate to get your message across. Tooltips and annotations are effective in drawing a user’s attention to important components of the new feature, ensuring they know how to use it properly.

To achieve #3, ensure your tutorial builds positive momentum and leaves users in a place where they’re ready to act.

Some companies build their own modals and tooltips natively for each release, and others use open source programs such as Joyride or jQuery tooltips.

These tools are free and are effective (when used well). But they’re also difficult to maintain and will cost your engineering team valuable time.

If you want a solution that that doesn’t require any code, check out what we have to offer at Appcues.

5. Measure Your Results

When it comes to feature launches, you want to measure two things: tutorial completion and new feature adoption.

Multi-step tutorial completion analytics will help you identify where users may be dropping off. This way you can optimize each step of your messaging funnel, and improve the way you release features over time.

When it comes to measuring feature adoption, there’s no one-size-fits-all metric. Ultimately, it’ll have to be a function of how you measure engagement.

One way or another, you’ll want to ensure your feature adoption funnel is properly configured in your analytics tool before you launch.

6. Plan for Tomorrow’s Signups

One of the most important segments for this feature announcement doesn’t actually exist yet: future signups. Make sure to consider how future users will first encounter the feature.

Is it a foundational feature that’s core to your product? If not, you may consider hiding it until users have acclimated themselves with the core functionality. Introducing complexity too soon can overwhelm users and cause them to get lost.

7. Create a Repeatable Messaging Strategy

Nobody enjoys using seemingly dormant products that haven’t changed in years. You want users to experience the same WOW moment that made them commit to using your product every time you release a new feature.

That’s what makes nailing your in app feature releases so important. Without effective messaging, products will continue to add noise, alienating all but power users and impeding the adoption of their new technologies.

But finding the most effective in app messaging can be an iterative process. So in order to create a repeatable strategy that works for your product, you’ll want to experiment with different tactics. There’s no better time to start iterating on that strategy than right now.

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