In today’s modern digital environment, it’s normal for software products to receive regular changes and updates. For SaaS businesses or traditional software developers, launching new features and updates is no longer a luxury thing to do but a necessity expected by your users.
Yet, no matter how great the new features you’ve introduced and no matter how hard your team has worked on the previous bug fixes, they will be essentially useless if your users/customers don’t know about these changes.
The way you communicate product changes to your users is actually very important, and you should invest enough time (and money) in it to keep your existing users engaged while also attracting new prospects.
Publishing well-written release notes is the best way to effectively communicate product changes to your users, and in this guide, we will discuss how to use release notes as the core of your communication strategy.
By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:
- The importance of communicating product changes and new features
- How to define a good communication strategy
- Common mistakes to avoid when writing and publishing release notes
- The anatomy of a great product release note
- Best practices in writing a release note
Why Should You Communicate Product Changes?
In today’s cloud-based technology environment, software users simply expect new features to be rolled out and bugs/issues to be fixed as soon as possible.
With that being said, announcing these product changes should be a core part of your communication strategy due to a few important reasons:
- Building trust and credibility
Communicating product changes is very effective in building trust and credibility, an important advantage that is often overlooked by many SaaS businesses.
If release notes listing product changes are readily available and easily understood by users, and you regularly publish these release notes, it will send a signal to users and prospects that you are committed to making your products better and that you are listening to your customers’ feedback.
Keep complete documentation for your release notes, or even better, publish a public product roadmap. This way, you can showcase how your product has improved over the years and your plan for future improvements.
- Engage users and prospects
This is especially important if your business is using a subscription-based business model where maintaining customer retention can be more important and more profitable than acquiring new customers.
If you can’t keep your users engaged month-to-month, you’ll risk losing them. Communicating product changes can be a great way to remind them about your brand so they’ll keep using your product.
Not to mention, if you don’t actively communicate product changes, users may perceive that you are not very committed to improving your product and, in a worst-case scenario, may move to your competitor.
- Make sure users are aware of the important changes
If you are releasing a new feature or functionality, then you should effectively communicate these changes to encourage them to use it right away.
If you have been actively collecting customer feedback (you should), then your release notes can also be a great way to effectively close the feedback loop. They’ll know that their feedback was heard, which can help improve customer satisfaction.
- Bringing back inactive users
Effectively communicating product changes and especially new features can be effective in driving product activation with existing/inactive users and increasing product usage.
You can include attractive call-to-action buttons in your release notes, so users can easily click on them to start using the new feature on your software right away.
Release Notes for Communicating Product Changes
Publishing release notes remains the most effective and acceptable way to communicate changes in software products.
A release note, simply put, is published text content (i.e., a web page, downloadable document, in-product widget, etc.) that is published to communicate the technical details of a software product.
Release notes can have two main functions:
- To announce the release of a new product. In this case, the release note should provide a brief summary of the product’s details and technical features.
- To communicate updates and changes to existing software product. In this case, the release note should communicate the changes implemented to the software product and the improvements made to the product compared to the former version
In this article, we will mainly focus on the latter role.
However, for SaaS businesses and software developers, publishing release notes can also play an important role in keeping a comprehensive audit trail for changes implemented to the software/application product from when the product was first released.
As discussed above, keeping a record of changes publicly available could also show your users your commitment as a brand to continuously improving the product while listening to customers’ feedback. This, in the long run, can help in establishing your credibility as a company.
The Anatomy of a Great Release Note
There are many different ways and approaches you can use to structure a release note. However, in communicating product changes, we’d recommend following this structure:
The release note’s header (title) should clearly inform readers what this release note is going to communicate. Depending on the nature of your software product, you can either go with formal titles or keep it fun and informal.
This section should cover a quick summary of the changes introduced to the product. This is arguably the most important section of the release note, since most readers will often read this section first, and many will only read this section and skip the rest of the release note.
Communicating the intent
Why are these changes implemented in the first place? Communicate this intent thoroughly in this section of the release note so you can set the reader’s expectations.
For example, if this update is intended to fix a previous problem/bug, state the previous bug and how you solved it through this update.
Keep this section short and to the point, and focus on providing clear and engaging information for human readers (i.e., don’t be too technical.)
Impact and necessary actions
Communicate how the changes will impact the user experience and whether there are specific actions that should be taken by users (i.e., confirming new configurations, adding specific information, etc.) Also, communicate if there are any policy changes due to this update.
In this section, focus on making sure the readers can easily understand how they can enjoy the new feature and all the required actions they should take.
Using Release Notes to Communicate Product Changes: Best Practices
Here are some of the most important principles and best practices to follow when writing a release note for communicating product changes:
1.Make it easy to find without disrupting the user experience
On the one hand, sending release notes via an email newsletter or a standalone blog post is no longer very effective, as your timing won’t be very effective and open reates are very low. On the other hand, displaying your release notes on a full-screen pop-up will easily annoy users.
Finding the right balance between the two is very important, and this is where ReleasePad’s release notes software can help you in publishing attractive but non-disruptive release notes to effectively communicate changes.
With ReleasePad, you can deploy an intuitive widget when a user loads your software solution or when they accessed a specific feature that has been updated recently.
Keep in mind that your release notes should improve the overall user experience rather than disrupt it.
2.Make sure it’s user-centric
When publishing release notes to communicate product changes, keep in mind that the main purpose is to inform your users or customers.
Make sure the release note is user-centered rather than product- or brand-centered. That is, the release note should cater to your user’s needs and pain points while also considering their behaviors and preferences.
Your release notes should be easy to read and understand with the right balance between being engaging and informative. Your readers/users should easily understand the changes/updates you’ve implemented and how these changes will affect their user experience in using your product.
3.Ensure the intent of the changes is clear
It’s a fact that not all of your users will read your release notes, and many of them will just quickly skim over them. However, there are also those who actually read the content thoroughly.
It’s important to try to cater to both types of users: make sure your release notes have the right balance between being engaging and informative. You’ll need to provide sufficient details, but at the same time, you shouldn’t overwhelm users with huge blocks of texts and unnecessary technical details.
Make sure to communicate the intent of the changes you’ve just implemented. Is it to fix a specific problem? Is it to improve how users will use the product in a certain way? The better you can communicate your intent, the more engaging your release notes will be, and the more likely your readers would like to try these new changes right away.
4. Use visuals to communicate your message
People tend to comprehend any information better when there are more visuals involved. So, while your release notes should mostly use text-based content, you should accompany these texts with visual information like photos, infographics, images, and even videos.
If it’s difficult to explain some points with texts (or if it will take too many words), consider using charts and infographics to get this message across while also enhancing the overall user experience.
However, as always, keep things balanced. Don’t use too many visual elements, or else your release note will look cluttered and will be counterproductive to the user experience.
5.Make it easy for users to enjoy the new features right away
Remember that the purpose of this release note is not only to communicate the changes but also to make sure your users will start trying the new changes and use the new features the right way.
So, make sure your release note provides enough information on what the users can do with this update and give suggestions on how they can take advantage of the new features and functionalities.
If applicable, add a direct link or a CTA button at the bottom of your release note so you can encourage your users to get started.
6.Use easily understandable language
While you can include an appropriate amount of technical information in your release notes, you should strive to make it accessible to as many audiences as possible.
So, use plain, easy-to-understand language as much as possible, and avoid overly difficult technical jargon unless it’s absolutely needed.
Again, the secret here is how well you understand your target audience: demographics, geographical locations, languages, behaviors, cultural barriers, etc. The better you understand their needs, the better you can compose release note content that is easily understandable by your target audience.
However, as a general rule of thumb, use straightforward, plain words whenever possible.
If your release note sounds like a generic and boring script, your users are more likely to skip it. Instead, as much as you can, incorporate elements of personalization in your release notes.
Using ReleasePad, you can easily and automatically personalize your release notes by segmenting your target audience for each change and update. You can segment your users by demographics, user role, language, and other criteria.
By making sure your release notes are delivered only to the right users at the right time, you can get more engagement.
8.Don’t include too many promotions
While you can use your release notes to promote your brand and other products, you shouldn’t stuff them with too many promotions and branding.
If there are too many promotions on your release notes, it can hurt your brand’s credibility in front of your users, so make sure only to do it sparingly and strategically.
Also, when promoting your brand or product within the release notes, keep things simple and use a humble approach.
9.Use optimal layout
It’s no secret that today’s users have a shorter attention span, and including huge blocks of texts is a recipe for them to skip your release notes right away.
Instead, make sure your release notes are carefully formatted with the proper layout. Strategically incorporate blank spaces, and use headers and subheaders to segment your content into smaller sections. You should also leverage drop-down menus and bullet points to improve readability.
A well-written release note remains the best way available to effectively communicate product changes to your users.
When communicating changes, it’s important to put yourself in your audience’s shoes: what will these changes mean for them? Will it directly affect how they use the product? What are the positive and negative impacts?
Make your release notes user-centric, and aim to cater to their needs and preferences as much as you can.