Launching new features is one of the most exciting moments you have as a product team. All your hard work has paid off, and you’re ready to introduce your updates to the world. It should be a celebratory time for both the team and the end user, but for years, companies have treated these moments as an afterthought. Right at the finish line, the energy and hype of a product update gets lost, and users are instead greeted by a simple bulleted list of addressed bugs.  

Product teams are missing out on an opportunity to directly engage with their users when they publish product updates in release notes.

In fact, even the phrase “release notes” highlights an error in the way most product teams think of new product announcements. Release notes should be presented to users in a way that drives excitement, engagement, and education of the new features, and leads to users clamoring for more. By changing the way you and your team think about and execute release notes, you’ll transform how your team leverages new product updates to drive increased engagement, excitement, and satisfaction from your user. In short, a correctly executed product announcement should get them just as jazzed as you are about your product’s ongoing evolution.

What Are Release Notes?

Typically speaking, release notes are a summary of what has changed within your product since the last release, and work as an update to the user on what’s new within your product. These are particularly important when highlighting a change that will directly affect your user’s experience with your product. Whether it’s a new feature within your product, a fix to something that was previously broken, or a change to the way it looks, release notes act as a guide to your user on what’s hot n’ fresh in your product.

Why Are Release Notes / Product Announcements Important?

1. They show progress

By keeping track of all the exciting things you and your team have changed and updated, release notes act as a living document showcasing how much work you put into your product every day. This isn’t just important for users who have been inactive for a length of time; it also shows users that your team is constantly improving the product they’re using. There’s an often overlooked benefit here: Users who encounter issues in the product are often more understanding and accepting of product shortcomings when the team is clearly working to continually improve their experience. Frequent and consistent product updates give users confidence that the items they’re asking for are on your team’s radar and are actively being explored.

2. They keep users excited

Keeping customers engaged and excited about your product is one of the most important things you can do. If a user loses interest in your product, they will move on to the next best thing. Release notes are a great way to re-engage your users at regular intervals by showing them what’s brand new in your product (and the best way to do this is directly in your product – but more on that later). 

3. They educate users

Keeping users informed of updates and best practices in your product will help to ensure your user’s success with the product. You want your users to get as much value out of your product as they can, and release notes can be a great forum for educating them on how to best utilize any new updates.

4. Users feel heard

The easiest way to get a user to stop using your product is to make them feel as if they’re screaming into a void and are not being heard. A release note or product announcement can act as a personalized letter to users that lets them know that your team hears their concerns, are incorporating their feedback  and are actively working to fix any problems they may have to make the product great.

5. They set proper user expectations

One of the main sources of user discontent comes from sudden, behavior-breaking product changes. By thoroughly informing and educating users on why this change is in fact better for them, you play defense against user outrage. In less serious cases, this could result in fewer support tickets. In more serious cases, this could help prevent customer churn.

What Deserves an Announcement? 

1. New features

It’s important to update your users on what’s new. This is the most exciting part of this whole thing – it’s the moment you and your team have been waiting for for months. Did you add something new? Have you provided even more value? The people want to know everything that’s brand new!

2. Bug fixes

Users love to feel heard. If there was a specific problem in your product and you were able to fix it, call it out! Chances are, at least one of your users encountered that problem themselves and will be happy to hear it was resolved.

3. Product improvements

Are there any existing features you’ve given a face lift to? Make sure you highlight those kinds of improvements as well. If a user’s favorite feature just got a little bit better or if there’s something that may now be relevant to them that wasn’t before, they’ll want to know. 

4. Product deprecations

Getting rid of unpopular features can clean up your product, make your users feel heard if it’s something they didn’t find particularly useful, and improve the overall quality of your product as your team can now focus on more relevant issues and updates. Clear out the clutter and focus on the important features!

How to Write Excellent Release Notes (Ahem.. Product Announcements)

1. Get users excited

This may sound straight forward, but the way most companies approach product announcements makes them feel lackluster and unimportant. If you’re celebrating the product announcement, your users will celebrate with you. No one’s going to get excited about some afterthought buried away in your App Store page, but if you share the news directly with your users and get excited about it, then they’ll be right there with you.

2. Be thorough (but not exhaustive)

Honestly, the biggest issue with release notes is that they’re usually way too brief, and don’t even come close to highlighting the major changes that happened to your product. Of course, you can’t include every single tiny detail of what’s changed, but if you don’t care enough about your product update to make it longer than a bullet point, then why should your user care? 

3. Provide a tl;dr 

You should definitely provide a brief, high level summary for those time conscious users, but the goal is to educate and excite a user enough to drive engagement. A bullet point almost never does that.

4. Select most appropriate distribution channels

Deciding where to share your release note may be just as important as how it’s written. It could be the most eloquent and profound release note ever written, but if it doesn’t get in front of your users in the right way, it doesn’t matter. Sending out an email, blasting it on social media, or writing a blog post are all possible methods of sharing your release note, but we think in app distribution is by far the best. This allows the user to immediately check out all the new features you just told them about without having them take any additional steps. We know you’re excited about the updates – get your users excited too by pointing them directly to where the new features are!

5. Avoid technical jargon

Sorry, bud- release notes are not the place to show off your degree in computer science. The point of them is to give everyone an update on what’s new in your product – and by everyone, we do mean everyone. Make sure you use plain English and explain your updates in simple language. It’ll make it easier for anyone reading through your release note or even just scanning through it to understand what’s happening and quickly absorb any new information. When in doubt, try to write your release note like you’re explaining the updates to your technologically inept grandparents – if you think they could understand it, then it’s probably perfect.

6. Tag updates by type

As we’ve mentioned above, we don’t love how release notes typically look. One way to organize and make your product updates look cleaner is to categorize them by type of update. Use big, bold titles to call out BUG FIXES, NEW FEATURES, PRODUCT IMPROVEMENTS, etc. so that even if a user is just scanning through, they can easily find what they’re looking for. 

7. Include an upgrade guide when needed

Sometimes, there are a few things a user may have to do in order to move from an old release to a new release, or access what’s in the new release. If that’s the case, then it’s imperative to outline anything a user must do in clear, succinct language. The easier it is for the user to understand what they’re doing and why, the better! 

8. Incorporate visual elements

How do you get a user jazzed about an updated or new feature? Just reading about it can be lackluster and miss the mark. By incorporating visual elements such as photos, short videos, or GIFs showcasing your new features can help the user visualize and understand what’s new. It’s also a great way to grab the attention of time-conscious users by giving them a quick visual on what’s new if they don’t have the time to dive into the text. may be slightly intimidated by release notes by showing them that you don’t need to be a tech junkie to figure out what’s changed in your product. 

9. Educate users on how to explore (and use) new features

It’s imperative that you educate your user on what’s new in your product. How do these updates change their experience? How do they use the new features, and where can they find it? Educating users on new product updates ensures increased engagement and shows the user why they should care about the updates. If they don’t understand what the updates are or how they work, you are setting your users up to fail. 

This is also just another reason why announcing updates directly in your product is the most effective. You can educate your users and explain all your new updates directly in the product and the user can then immediately explore all new features without having to open up any other pages.

10. Centralize all release notes 

You don’t want to make your users have to hunt down your release notes, especially if they’ve been inactive for a period of time and may have missed a few. Having a central place where you store everything makes it super easy for your users to find your updates and they know where to go if they have any questions on what’s new.

4 Release Note Examples to Emulate in Your Business

InVision

Why we think this is a good example:

  • It’s labelled. The different features that were added are separated out and are easy to find, read, and understand.
  • There’s a link to download. While it’s not delivered directly in-app, adding a link to download the updates is helpful to the users.

Teamwork

Why we think this is a good example:

  • It’s easy to digest. They have separated out their announcements by type and written everything in simple language.
  • They show a roadmap of things that are coming soon to give your user a preview of what else you’re working on
  • Links to more in depth explanations if your user is interested in learning more

Gusto

Why we think this is a good example:

  • The announcement is made in app. The user doesn’t have to go to an external page to find all the information they need about updates.
  • There are links to in depth posts in their help center so a user can find out more information if they would like
  • There is a notification system that will alert a user when a new product announcement is made so that they can immediately check it out.

Parlor

Why we think this is a good example:

  • It’s delivered in-app. The user doesn’t have to open an email or hunt for the update in the App Store, so the message is delivered directly to the user.
  • It’s simple, straight-forward, and easy to digest quickly. It makes it very clear what the update was and where to find everything new.
  • It uses visual elements to get the user excited about the new update. It’s very clear that this is a celebratory moment and something that the user should want to check out right away.

Who Writes the Release Notes?

Often, there is a technical writer who will work with product managers and engineers to write product updates. However, we think the person closest to the update should write the announcement. They’ll have the best understanding of what’s new, why it’s noteworthy, and how it will affect or improve users’ lives. Sure, someone else from the team can always edit it, but the person internally most excited for the update should be the one writing the update.

 

How to Create the Ultimate Product Announcement

Okay. It’s time to get real. Simply put, the way most teams approach release notes just isn’t the best way to deliver important product updates. They are boring afterthoughts hidden in the Apple Store page under the “What’s New” tab. Rather than being the celebratory moment, they are instead the fastest way to sap out all the joy of a product update. 

We need to move away from viewing release notes as these footnote-like afterthoughts, and instead start to see them for what they truly are – an integral part of the product release process and a celebratory occasion deserving an announcement. 

Unless you are delivering your updates in-app directly to your user, you and your team are missing out on a crucial way to engage with your users the moment they learn about the new features.  So many companies currently deliver their product announcements via email, and that banks on your end user opening the email, reading through a massive block of text, then separately opening up your product and searching around until they find the new features. What kind of experience is that for the end user?

Plus, when delivered in-app,  you can target to specific users so it’s not just a catch-all but actually informs the user on updates that directly affect them. Not to mention that they’re perfectly timed as the user is hearing the exciting news as soon as they open the app- they can immediately go explore the updates as soon as they read about them. 

Deliver a product announcement in plain language directly in-app to your user. Let them immediately explore any new features. Let them tell you what they  think of the updates as they are hearing about the updates.

But most importantly, let them celebrate this exciting moment with you and your team. 

So, pop open that champagne and put on those party hats- let’s finally give product updates the recognition they deserve.