Product teams work incredibly hard to constantly improve the products that they build. But when it comes time to release new features, we often treat the process of communicating these updates to our users as an afterthought. We send a dull, hard to read list of release notes and consider the job done.

 

We’re missing a huge opportunity; done right, product updates can engage and delight your users, generate valuable feedback on what’s resonating and what needs to be improved, and contribute to a virtuous cycle of steady product improvements. The initial cost to build a new feature in your product is typically only one third of the total long term cost. So instead of thinking “build, release, done”, we need to embrace the idea that product updates are the beginning of an important, and ongoing, process of improvement.

 

In this post, we’ll cover what important factors to consider before writing your product announcement, the anatomy of a perfect announcement, how to distribute and share your announcement and what to do after the announcement is sent.

 

Things to consider before writing your product announcement

 

A product announcement should be a celebratory event, not just for your team, but for your users. We often believe that our users are going to be annoyed that we’re notifying them of a product update. But consider it from the user’s perspective: “Hey, you’ve provided me with even more value on this thing that I’ve spent my time and money on? Great!” New features are a very positive thing for our users, and they usually understand this. So don’t be afraid to make announcements on a frequent and consistent basis and take advantage of an opportunity to increase user engagement.

 

Your product announcement has three goals: Education, engagement and excitement. We’re educating our users by informing them of something new and telling them where to access the new functionality and how to use it. We can also drive users who haven’t engaged in a while to re engage with the product or get already engaged users to interact with a new or different part of the product. And the communication of new functionality gets users excited that the product they’ve invested in is improving on a consistent basis, leading to more customer loyalty, a stronger brand and increased referrals.

 

Not every product announcement is relevant to every user. Make sure to segment your user population so that when you do make an announcement, you make it to the people for whom it’s most relevant. There are some announcements that should be seen by all of your users, in fact, for many products the majority of product announcements impact most users. However, that won’t always be the case, so you’ll get the best post-announcement feedback, and the best engagement, if you make sure to target the users for whom the announcement is most relevant.

 

Think carefully about how you position product announcements and put yourself in the shoes of your users when writing the announcement. Why does this announcement matter to the user? Is it a thing worth telling users about? Will they be excited? Will it lead to deeper engagement? Is it communicating information that they need to know?

 

Not every product change is worthy of an announcement. If it’s just a bulleted list of a few bugs that you fixed, your users are unlikely to care. If it’s about back end performance improvements, most users won’t be interested (unless performance was so bad that it was a frequently reported pain point). On a related note, make sure to lead with the most important takeaways for your users. If you bury the lead three paragraphs into your announcement, most of your users will never get to the good stuff. So optimize for skim value.

 

When writing the announcement, think about what behaviors you want and expect from your users. Make sure to build a feedback mechanism into the announcement. What’s the next step that you want them to take after the announcement? You probably want them to engage with the new feature or functionality and then provide feedback. Your best opportunity for getting that feedback is right after you announce something new, because after that feedback is likely to just trickle in.

 

Anatomy of a perfect announcement

Anatomy

Depending on what channels you’ll use to distribute your announcement, it typically takes a few different forms. It’s not uncommon to have a short, medium and long version of your announcement. The announcement that you send over email or social should be the shortest, the in-app announcement includes more detail and the blog post is the longest and most detailed.

 

Email is best used for communicating a simple “hey, we have something new, click here to learn more.” When users are in your app, that’s when they really want deeper information about the new feature, and also when their attention is most focused on your product. Questions like “where is it?”, “do I have access to it?” or “how do I get access to it?” can all be answered right in your app. 

 

Now that we understand that the length and depth of your announcement will vary depending on the channel or medium used, here are some other best practices to keep in mind:

 

Start with a headline that is clear and distinct about what you’ve launched. For example: “NPS surveys are now delivable on mobile.” 

 

Then include a very short summary for users who aren’t going to read anything else. It’s the TL;DR and is probably just a sentence or two. For example: “Premium subscribers can now send net promoter score to your users in your Android and iOS mobile apps from Parlor”. This very brief summary is really all you need to include in the email announcement. You’re just trying to capture the user’s attention, so you can link them to more information in app or on your site.

Then, write the full description for users who want more detail. You could actually format a long form announcement in such a way that it also serves as your FAQ:

  • What is it / what did you just launch?
  • How do I access it / find it?
  • How does it improve my experience / why does it matter?
  • And any additional detail that’s important to the user

 

This more detailed description should be supported by rich media (images, videos) to more quickly and effectively tell the story. And include relevant CTAs such as “Click here to check it out” or “What do you think? Give us feedback here.”

 

Make sure to add a “what’s next” section, so users know what other new functionality to expect down the road. This keeps your users engaged and excited, when they see that your product is a living thing that’s constantly improving.

 

Distribute and promote your update

 

Now that you’ve written a few different versions of your update, make sure that your users see it. Different users prefer to receive information over different channels, so you want to be where your users are, to maximize the share of users who see your update.

If you only choose one place for your product updates, send them in your app, which is the most natural place to engage with your users. At Parlor, we see dramatically higher engagement rates for in app updates, versus, for example email. In app updates also allow you to learn about how your users feel about the new functionality (more below) by running a quick sentiment survey right after your users see the update.

Parlor feature announcement

Email is still a valuable channel for communicating your product updates but, as discussed above, you want to keep your email updates short and to the point, directing users to your app or your site for more detailed information.

 

You can also send your product updates through social channels, showing both current users and potential future customers the valuable new features in your product.

 

Your most detailed update should be published on your site or blog. In addition to being a great medium to provide more detail, rich media and answer common questions in an FAQ, showing your product updates on your site is a powerful marketing tool for prospects. Potential future customers who are checking out your site will see that your product is constantly improving. Also, not everyone will read your updates at the time that you launch new features, so you want a historical record for users who log in later to be able to find stuff.

Releasing your product update is only the beginning

 

You’ve written a compelling product update, shared it across different channels and engaged your users. Your job is done, right? Absolutely not. Sending your product update is only the beginning of an iterative process of product improvement.

Once your update has been delivered to users, you should measure the success of the update. Review any user comments that you’ve received. Analyze the sentiment ratings from your in app announcement to gain a high level understanding of the overall response to the update. And look at what percentage of your users engaged with your update. Finally, once your new feature has been live long enough for users to really understand the value, run a feature fit index survey, which is the quickest, most effective way to determine if your feature resonates with your users.

The steps above give you incredibly valuable feedback to begin the iterative process of improvement. Schedule interviews with the users who engaged with your update. You’ll want to talk to groups of users who were both positive and negative about your update.

 

Once you’ve gathered feedback, you can prioritize the iterative improvements on your roadmap. This is a great opportunity to drive even stronger engagement with your users, by transparently communicating expectations and timelines for future improvements. Users who see that you’ve been receptive to their feedback and that they can expect even more improvements in the near term will be happier and more engaged.

 

Some things to avoid

 

We’ve covered a lot of best practices above, but there are a few things to make sure you avoid. If you’ve received and read product updates from other companies, you’ve probably noticed that many product updates seem almost clinical; rather than being a celebration of new value, they’re often vanilla, dry lists of bullet point updates.

The easiest way to avoid this is by having the person on your team who’s most excited about the update and who knows the features best write the update. In fact, some of the best product teams even write the product update before actually building the new feature, so that they start from a place of unfettered excitement about what is being worked on or added to the product. By taking this press release first mentality, you can simultaneously set the ideal outcome of your work (in terms of what your update will ultimately accomplish) while ensuring that the announcement itself is created at the moment of greatest excitement and hope for your team.

 

Make your product updates a competitive advantage

 

We’ve seen how writing a great update, getting it in front of your users and engaging those users can make your product even better. And this iterative process keeps your users engaged, shows them you listen to their feedback and gets them excited about what’s to come. Done right, instead of boring release notes that no one wants to read, your product updates can be a huge advantage over your competition. 

 

How do you update your users about your products? Have you found other tactics for great product updates that keep your users happy and engaged? Let us know in the comments.