These days most software companies track a lot of different metrics, especially when it comes to measuring the health and success of their business. But for product and product marketing teams, no success metric is more critical than user engagement. At the end of the day, if users aren’t engaged with your product, few other metrics matter. NPS, MRR, and even MAU all begin with an active and engaged user base.
In our experience, if your software isn’t driving or maintaining an engaged user base, it’s often due to a failure (or regular failures) to effectively communicate new product changes to users. From tiny bug fixes to brand new features, ensuring users are aware of the value you’re delivering is essential to keeping them happy and returning to your product again and again.
At LaunchNotes, our customers are constantly asking about best practices for driving higher user engagement. While the advice we give is tailored for each customer based on their team’s specific needs, it’s no secret that many of these best practices are broadly applicable. As such, I figured it was time we captured them in a blog for you.
Without further ado, here are 5 ways to increase user engagement with your product change comms.
This one seems obvious, but, 90% of the time we find many teams miss an opportunity to drive user engagement simply because they don’t have a plan in place for communicating upcoming product changes. In fact, the communications step of the release process is, unfortunately, often an afterthought. So we’re here to remind you that this final step is arguably the most important, as no one can get excited about or engage with new features or updates they don’t know about.
It’s worth noting we are very empathetic to how and why this happens. In any organization there are always shifting timelines and priorities, multiple projects competing for the same resources, and only so many hours in the day. As such, the most important aspect of getting any software release completed usually becomes “just getting it over the line and out to users.” But, as the saying goes: even a Michelin star restaurant can’t get any business if no one knows it’s there.
Here’s an easy, three-step checklist to ensure you never forget an announcement plan again:
By including the announcement plan early on in the process, and in collaboration with the team who will be building the new feature or update, everyone is reminded of the desired end state (happy, engaged users who love what’s just shipped!) and it’s more likely the comms portion of the product update remains a priority.
A common trap that many teams fall into is waiting until the week or two before a launch to draft an announcement post. However, drafting this post at the beginning of the project has a number of benefits, including early alignment on the value prop and messaging between the product and marketing teams, early exposure of flaws that may exist in the narrative or announcement plan, and additional time for stakeholders across the business to review. Not to mention it makes announcement week significantly less stressful for everyone!
A perfect forcing function to ensure the comms aspect of any release isn’t overlooked is to ensure PM and PMM teams rally around a shared engagement goal for each update. This ensures that, throughout the development process, neither team loses sight of the fact that engagement with the update is the ultimate goal at the end of the day.
Another simple, yet often underutilized, tactic for driving higher user engagement is teasing new features before they’re shipped. Giving a sneak peek into what’s coming has a number of powerful benefits:
Whenever we speak with customers about this tactic, there is almost always debate about whether or not it’s a good idea to potentially provide competitors (and others across the market) with knowledge of what you and your team are working on. While we fully unpack and debunk most of these objections in our blog on whether or not to share your roadmap publicly, I think it’s worth quickly addressing here as well.
I would suggest that anyone who is more worried about a competitor knowing what they’re working on than worried about increasing user engagement among their user base has their priorities backwards. The bottom line is that if a competitor really wanted to find out what you were working on, there are a number of different ways they could do so. If they’re doing this, you should actually take it as a compliment, as you appear to be a threat to them and they’re trailing you in the feature department.
Meanwhile, your users are your most important asset and you should spend every moment you have trying to keep them happy, engaged, and invested in your business and product. If you do this, they’ll have no reason to ever leave you, even if a competitor attempts to build some sort of fast follow-up to whatever you’re working on.
Generally speaking, the most common channel used to communicate product changes is email. This isn’t a huge surprise, because for decades email has been the most efficient way to communicate something to large swaths of people over the internet. Write some sort of blog post about what’s changing, draft an email, link to the blog post in your email, and away you go.
However, times are changing, and in recent years email has gone from one of the most loved and trusted marketing channels to one of the most challenging… and sometimes even hated. Here are just a few of the reasons why product and product marketing teams can no longer solely rely on email to reach their desired audience and drive higher user engagement.
The good news is that technologies have advanced to the point where teams are no longer tied to email as the main distribution channel. These days, with the right tool, teams can communicate product change through Slack, Microsoft Teams, RSS, or even directly in their app through the use of an embeddable widget. And since customers are far more likely to engage with updates that reach them on their own terms, we recommend allowing users to choose the notification channels best suited for them.
The result of empowering users to pick and choose the best channel for them? A consistent 50%+ open and engagement rate on all product change comms.
As evidenced by the 50% open and engagement rates discussed above, the more personalized your comms are, the more likely users are to engage with them. But this isn’t just true for the marketing channel being used - it’s also true for the content itself.
Another pitfall we often see is teams sending one blanket message to a large group of people about something that has changed, been improved, or was recently released. Even if you’re getting an update in your desired channel, if the content isn’t relevant to you, it’s human nature to tune out and refocus on the other 10 things fighting for your attention.
For this reason, we strongly advise customers to think about how different segments of users will be impacted by upcoming changes, and to divide and publish their content accordingly.
For example, if you’re a tool that has three different pricing tiers, and you’re rolling out a feature that is fully accessible on one tier, partially gated on a second tier, and unavailable on the third tier, use an upcoming change as an opportunity to engage separately with users on each plan type. For users that have full access, provide them with a video that shows them how they can get the most out of the feature that very day. For users of your second tier, describe how they can access and use the feature, but also discuss the drawbacks, and where they can go to upgrade and have full access. And for users on the final tier, instead of ignoring them since the feature doesn’t apply to their plan, this is the perfect opportunity to engage them with an exciting upsell opportunity and maybe even a deal that will entice them to upgrade.
This is just one example, but the bottom line is that every new update is an opportunity to publish and share personalized content to different audiences. It’s simply a matter of ensuring each message is tailored to the intended audience, and they’ll be 3x more likely to engage with it.
Perhaps the easiest and most actionable way to drive higher user engagement when communicating product changes is spending less time on text and more time on visuals (illustrations, screenshots, gifs, short videos, and so on). As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And in the software world, when it comes to gifs, I think it’s safe to say they’re worth a million.
The “show me, don’t tell me” strategy is valuable for a number of reasons.
Looking for a few tools to help you make your announcements more visual and engaging? Here’s a quick list of our favorites:
Taking a step back from the specific ideas and tactics discussed above, the best way to use product change comms to increase user engagement is to redefine what success looks like for each product release and announcement. For the vast majority of businesses, the desired end state is a product that has been released to users and announced to the world. Once that’s been completed, everyone checks their respective boxes and dives in on the next project.
If you truly want to drive user engagement, the success criteria for your next launch needs a refresh: a working product that is released, a successful announcement, and users that are actively engaged with whatever you’ve shipped. If the desired end state is happy and active users using the latest update, instead of simply a product release and the associated announcement, many of the topics we’ve covered above will become a natural part of every product release instead of afterthoughts or things that people see as “extras” and therefore get deprioritize.