In-App Messaging

In-app messaging is a way of communicating with users within the context of your product, often taking the form of tooltips, banners, or in-app chat. For software products, in-app messaging includes all of the native messages sent to a user while they are using your product.

In-app messaging has the added benefit of context. Because users are logged in and using a piece of software when they see the message, the message is more likely to be read or acted on, particularly compared to other media such as email or push notifications.

Types of In-App Messages

In-app messaging is common in SaaS and mobile applications, and can take many forms, including:

Tooltips: short informative text bubbles that are usually triggered when a user hovers over a specific element in the app. The classic tooltip example is when more information is available by hovering over a ⍰.

Product Tours: Multi-step in-app guides that highlight various aspects of the product. These tours can be interactive or simply informative, usually prompting the user to take a series of actions or orienting them around a new screen.

Banners: Permanent or closable messages at the top or bottom of the screen. These are usually used to display a time-dependent message, such as a planned outage or an issue with payment.

Toast Message: A temporary in-app message that displays for a period of time and then disappears. These are usually produced as a result of in-app behavior, such as updating settings.

Lightboxes: Messages that take up a majority of the screen and obfuscate the content behind them. These are often used for major announcements or important steps in a self-serve product.

Live Chat: An interactive component for chatting directly with users while they are in the app. The most common use case for this is to provide support, but live-chat can also be used for making announcements or prompting product feedback.

When to use In-App Messages (and When not To)

In-app messages are a very useful method of communicating with users and it is often a key component of product strategy and more specifically, product-led growth strategy. The benefits of in-app messaging include:

  • Context (users see messages side-by-side with your application)
  • Security (it’s easy to display messages to specific cohorts of users)
  • Engagement (calls-to-action can take place directly from the message)
  • Flexibility (it’s easy to control styling and user experience of messages)

In general, in-app messaging is great for keeping users of your app informed, engaged, and happy. There are plenty of circumstances, however, when in-app messaging isn’t the right medium for communicating.

Let’s take a look at some of those cases.

1. Targeting contacts without an account in your app

This seems obvious at first, but it’s useful to keep in mind that not everyone you want to reach uses your app when planning your customer comms strategy. Billing admins might rarely log in to your app, for example. Or, you might be trying to expand usage of your product at a given company and want to send a message to users who haven’t yet created an account. In these cases, a simple email might be your best option.

2. Communicating information that needs to be regularly referenced

In-app messaging is the go-to medium for contextual, temporal information. But for information that needs to be referenced continually, a support article or email might be a better option. An example of this could be a confirmation code for a billing transaction or instructions on how to take a tricky, common action in your application. If you display the former in a toast message or only make the latter available as part of a product tour, you’re creating a bad user experience.

3. When the call-to-action doesn’t match up with the screen/device

In the same way that the right context can be a boon for users receiving in-app messages, a mismatch in context can be a frustrating experience. Some examples of this are prompting a user in a desktop application to download a mobile app, or using a mobile push notification to offer an ebook to users that isn’t optimized for mobile. Thinking about the user’s device in conjunction with the message will help you decide if in-app makes sense for a given cohort.

On the whole, in-app messaging is a powerful tool for managing modern customer communication.

Interested in getting started with in-app messaging? Here are a few common tools to get you started:

  • Appcues
  • Intercom
  • Pendo
  • Userpilot
  • Airship