When Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge went into hiding in St Mary's Hospital in London, they had a plan. A series of immaculately conceived announcements were prepped across the city, ready to be broadcast to the whole world as soon as the new prince crowned his little head.
First, a sleek royal car drove to the palace to deliver the news. Then, a message on a golden easel propped behind the royal gates. Then came the call of a town crier on the steps of the hospital and a chorus of gun salutes. Trafalgar Square even turned blue.
If the royal family made release notes, you know you'd want to buy that app.
There are millions of products that try to poach your users' attention. If your release note reads simply “Bug fixes,” your new version is going disappear in the crowd without being noticed. You've been focusing so hard on making your app the best it can be, screening out bugs and creating whizzy new features, that you forget that the release note is a direct line to the loyal followers who can make your app a success and should follow similar guidelines as user onboarding best practices.
Luckily you have a range of tools, from in-product tutorials to blog posts, for announcing feature releases. While all have the same goal of driving engagement to your new and improved product, each platform delivers a slightly different purpose in making the best messages.
Here are 6 channels for communicating release notes, and how to use each.
Use the App Store for your elevator pitch
An app store release note is a short, blurb-like description that can take your user straight through to your product. It acts like a trailer for your new feature, so be enticing and succinct with what you include. Show off the personality of your brand.
Slack lays out the fixes it has made with a friendly, irreverent tone.
Just because you're talking about fixing bugs doesn't mean you should start sounding like an exterminator. Slack makes a special effort to pen really unique release notes. It's a way to get people excited about small but important changes that will actually make their lives a lot easier.
Use the compact space of the app store to show users what you do, and how you do it.
Use blog posts as a training center
The longer form of a blog gives you the chance to delve into the specifics of your feature release. Announcing new features on your blog is a great opportunity to teach users how to get the most out of them. There's time and space to explain and even demo updates, and lead users right into the new features so they can try them out while they're inspired.
Hubspot uses its blog to teach users how to get stuff done, like how to merge companies in its CRM:
The blog format allows HubSpot to break down the update's function into separate instructions, guiding the user through it. They can also add images to illuminate certain details. And while the user is learning, he or she can benefit from the other parts of the blog — here, the user can find updates in specific categories, like Marketing and Sales, or can sign up to receive regular updates by email.
Use your blog to break feature releases down into teachable parts and make your users extra good at using your product.
Use social to single out features
Social media's short, temporary form gives users the chance to click through to your app the moment their curiosity is piqued. This allows you to create instant buzz about individual updates.
Pokémon GO uses Twitter to announce each of its many updates exclusively, giving players an easy way to click through to the update that is most relevant to them. In this example, they announced that the Nearby Pokemon feature was available to more users:
While focusing on each update's most relevant detail, Pokemon GO retains the cult energy of its brand by addressing players as “Trainers” at the start of each tweet, always reminding them that they're part of a special club. Pokémon GO knows it's important to keep immersing their users in the world of the app.
Capitalize on the brevity of social media to tempt your user by spotlighting single features.
Use email to invite feedback
Announcing updates through email can be a really personal way to share an update. Your feature release goes straight to the user's inbox and it can open up a bunch of different ways for users to connect with you.
This is how Expensify's founder sent a mass email with huge personal appeal by handwriting it:
By addressing particular roles in the subject line, David rises above the mass tone of most emails. He spells out precisely what features have been updated in the top portion of the email body. Then he goes on to chat in his own voice. He personalizes still further by only using his first name to sign off.
Email gives David a chance to get people involved in more than just this update. He doesn't just ask for people to use the new features, he wants feedback. He gives readers four chances to further engage at the end of the email: through Twitter, additional reading, downloading, or joining a discussion.
Use in-product notes to contextualize updates
In-product messaging is timely, contextual messages that catch your users when they're actually using your product. They can target a particular subset of users or be linked to related features.
ProdPad uses in-product release notes to give users what they want in the moment.
This Appcues-built modal window summarizes the benefits that users will receive and directs them, with a super-clear CTA, to download the new code. The easy-to-read language also demonstrates ProdPad's concise and transparent approach to release note writing.
In app messaging puts your updates where they're most useful, giving you the ability to galvanize new features and even reactivate old or neglected features.
Use your website to roadmap
On your website you have the ability to change the wallpaper as your priorities shift. You can also use the functions of different pages — from your homepage, to your blog, to your features tutorials — to categorize updates for different audiences. Place an eye-catching image on your homepage while your blog tells the story of the update in more depth.
Teamwork.com's site roadmap is a place for the team to log updates, as part of a visible big picture plan for their suite of productivity tools:
See how Teamwork.com turns updates into human, interesting events by connecting each update to its developer with an avatar. The roadmap is a chance for Teamwork.com to zero in on the developer arm of its user base by celebrating the technical work of each update, while personalizing the behind-the-scenes team.
Use the flexibility of your website to make places for each of your audience groups and bring them closer to the nerve center of your product.
Do more with your feature releases
Your team works hard on each new feature, so don't sell yourself short. A feature release is an opportunity to share with current users and potential users, alike, the culmination of your hard work.
If you use several possible channels of communication— inside and outside the product— you'll not only get your new feature out into the world, but you'll re-engage users, create excitement around your entire product, and extend your brand's reach to new audiences by following user onboarding best practices.
And you don't have to stop there. You could pair your outreach with a live event, and give your customers a face to associate your brand with. Pokémon GO has now hosted several very successful launches, including a recent live Halloween event, which reportedly boosted the game's revenue by 133%. Give your app the buzz it deserves.