In-App Messaging: Use Cases, Best Practices, and Real-Life Examples

In-App Messaging: Use Cases, Best Practices, and Real-Life Examples

In-app messaging is a delicate matter. Treat it with great care because it can easily make or break the user experience. Think of it as a conversation with your users and a powerful tool for activation, engagement, and retention.

Nadja Bozovic
17 min read
In-App Messaging: Use Cases, Best Practices, and Real-Life Examples

Imagine entering a grocery store looking to buy some fruits, but the moment you step in, a store manager starts pulling you in different directions, saying “Here is our meat department. This is the beverage section. Now, let me show you where to find instant coffee…”. You’d feel confused, annoyed, and frustrated. You just wanted apples.

Showcasing every single feature of your product from the moment a new user signs up would be equivalent to that. And you don’t want that to happen. You want your users to feel welcome, relaxed, and motivated. 

Mastering the art of in-app messaging can help you encourage and engage users, match their workflow inside your product, and offer the right information at the right time.

In this article, we’ll cover:
  • What in-app messaging is in the context of a SaaS product 

  • The types of in-app messaging you can use to guide your users

  • When and where to use these messages to enhance UX and drive adoption

  • Best practices around copy, design, and signal-to-noise ratio

  • Real-life examples that can help you create a stellar user experience

  • Expert insights – thank you Kirsty Finlayson and Moritz Dausinger for useful tips

Step in, and read on.

What is in-app messaging? #

In-app messaging refers to timely, relevant, and contextual notifications your users see while they interact with your product or app. These messages come in various types, shapes, and forms that you can adapt to the specific use case and convey a clear message every time. 

Here’s a short video explainer of in-app messaging from Kirsty Finlayson, Head of Marketing at Chameleon.

Types of in-app messaging #

Let’s take a look at the most common types of in-app messaging you can use to educate, activate, and engage your users while they are actively using your product.

Product tours #

Product tours, walkthroughs, and in-app guides are a great way to onboard new users and help them find their way around your product from the moment they sign up. But, as we mentioned, this doesn’t mean that you should throw a 15-step onboarding tour at them to show everything there is.

Ditch the long, boring tours – there’s only so much information users can take in at once. Instead, create several tours. Keep them clear and concise to offer just the right amount of information at this stage of users’ journey. Here's a low-fidelity example of a product tour built with Chameleon, and how it could look like within a product.

At Chameleon, we analyzed user interactions with over 58 million Tours and found that 3-step tours have the highest completion rate of 72%. In comparison, only 16% of Tours with 7 steps are completed.  

To get the best results, customize your product tours to each of your Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) or user personas, especially if you serve different audiences. For example, if your SaaS tool offers solutions for both freelancers and enterprises, create separate tours and in-app messaging flows that will point both individuals and teams in the right direction, depending on their needs and jobs to be done. You can pipe through known information you’ve collected in the signup process or even ask your new users for further info to help personalize their experience.

Checklist “widgets” #

Checklists are another type of in-app messaging that you can use for user onboarding. Within a checklist, you can add important tasks that users need to complete, offer links to relevant help documents, point users in the direction of your knowledge base, add video tutorials, and more.

Keep in mind that checklists should be easily approachable on the page, triggered by a click, or a hover over a UI element – but there should also be an easy way for users to close and reopen them as they need. 

Even though checklists are going to be structured in a different way than product tours – this in-app messaging format should also be highly relevant and concise. Think of it as one of the pillars of your self-serve support and use them to offer structural guidance.

And, of course, onboarding isn’t the only use case for checklists. At Chameleon, we call this kind of in-app messaging Launchers – and we practice what we preach. For example, we recently created a new Launcher to present quick links to useful resources for our customers, and it looks like this:

From one place, new and long-term users can quickly launch an Intercom Chat, read about new feature updates, or even join one of our webinars!

Chatbots #

Need to add a human touch to your product? Try using chatbots for in-app messaging via a live chat with customer support reps, or real-time scheduling options for a product demo. 

Chatbots are typically available 24/7, but keep in mind that the response time is important. The HubSpot research shows that almost ⅔ of customers expect the response in 10 minutes or less. 

Chatbots can also be pre-programmed to greet new users or website visitors, offer answers to frequently asked questions, collect user feedback, and much more. The most important thing is to resemble real conversations as much as possible. This is where the language you use and how you use it matters the most. 

As Dave Gerhardt, VP of Product at Drift, explains in the Talk Stack podcast episode on B2B conversational marketing: 

“If there are no real humans on the other end of the chatbot, be transparent about it. Otherwise, you risk adding noise and not meeting customer expectations”.

All in all, chatbots are a great way for SaaS businesses to engage with prospects, capture qualified leads, answer customer support queries, and help users find the right information by balancing the signal-to-noise ratio.

Tooltips #

Tooltips are short messages related to specific UI elements that provide additional explanations and guide users towards taking specific actions. They are often used to help users discover the product value and quickly reach their “aha!” moment.

Tooltips are typically triggered when a user hovers over an on-page item or when they click on an icon, a hotspot, or another element. By helping users get the right information exactly when and where they need it, you pave the way for your product success.

Here’s a mock-up example of how tooltips triggered by a hover over an element or by clicking on an icon could like like.

Like with other in-app messaging types, simply adding a tooltip will not make your users engaged – and too many tooltips can feel like a minefield. So, instead of adding tooltips where interface design clearly shows what it is, use tooltips to provide new value. 

Great tooltip design can have a big influence on how users understand product functionality and whether they’ll eventually succeed in completing their task. On the other hand, bad tooltip design presents tooltips as irritants and they lose all credibility.

Modals #

Modals have a bad rep, but that doesn’t mean that you should never use them. It does mean, however, that you should be careful not to overwhelm users with too many modals.

Back in 2019, Sumo analyzed 1.75 billion pop-ups and came up with insights that are still relevant today. Their study showed that pop-ups with more context have higher conversion rates, the highest-converting pop-ups don’t appear immediately, and that the best pop-ups offer something of value.

That said, when you use modals in-product, make sure to add real value with a pop-up notification, align content with context, and match the message with the user persona and their stage of the user journey.

Take a look at how Degreed used modal to announce a new Home page redesign and offer a sneak peek for website visitors who wanted to check it out before everyone else.

An example of a modal built with Chameleon

The purpose of modals is to grab the user’s attention, but it’s important when they're triggered and how you position them. For example, you can use modals for your in-app tutorials and anchor them to specific elements on the page. Or you can add a pop-up with an animated confetti effect to celebrate once the user has completed onboarding successfully.

In-app surveys #

Continuous feedback is crucial for every SaaS business, especially if you want to implement a product-led growth (PLG) strategy. In-app surveys are an excellent way to gather feedback in-product and keep track of customer health metrics over time. 

You can use NPS, CSAT, or CES surveys to check the pulse on customer satisfaction, or contextual Microsurveys, triggered by specific user actions to build custom feedback prompts from scratch. 

For example, you can use drop-down and open-form surveys to personalize the onboarding flow. Or run multiple-button surveys to collect feedback about new features, address issues your users might be facing at the moment of interaction, and get highly contextual responses you can later extract useful insights from.

Get user feedback with Chameleon

Run in-product surveys to collect contextual user feedback throughout the development process – from ideas to validation to deployment.

When and where to use in-app messages #

Now that you know the most relevant in-app messaging types, let us walk you through the most common use cases of when and where to use in-app messages in your product.

Onboarding flows #

Onboarding flows for first-time users is one of the most common use cases for in-app messaging. But you don’t need to focus only on new users. You can use product tours to onboard users who are transitioning from a free trial to a paid plan or those who move through subscription upgrades.

The more personalized the onboarding experience you create, the better. You can create a tour with a welcome message, ask about the ways users will be using your product, and create several different onboarding flows from there, depending on their answer. To gamify the experience further, you can use special effects to celebrate the completion of specific activation milestones – bring out the confetti!

New feature announcements #

If you launch a new feature but don’t notify users about it, chances are that only a small portion of your customer base will find it on their own. This is where in-app messaging can help you announce the features and redesigns, briefly explain them, and drive the feature adoption.

Depending on the complexity of a feature, you can create a short tooltip with a hotspot or a lightbox, an event-triggered tour, or a pop-up modal to let users know that the new feature is available and why they should try it out. Take your new feature announcements to the next level by showing these in-app messages to users who would benefit from the improvements the most.

Product updates #

If you work in an agile environment, chances are that you’ll frequently have product updates, new product versions, or redesigns you want to communicate with users. 

You can send email blasts with the latest release notes and have a dedicated page on your website or within your knowledge hub. That would certainly be a great way to explain what’s new. 

Apart from that, you should also use in-app messaging to showcase the product updates in context. To get the most of it, use product analytics to uncover behavior-based data and create short, contextual announcements that will add value while users are interacting with your product.

Self-serve support #

Having an effective self-serve model that helps users to learn at their own pace is crucial, especially in the product-first world. With a versatile checklist, a.k.a. Launchers, you can tick all the self-serve boxes with a single in-product widget.

To offer help when your users need it the most, segment your users to be able to proactively help different user types in different scenarios. Then, you can create trigger-based checklists with links to relevant help docs and videos, a knowledge base, a FAQ page, a developers’ community, live chat support, or other significant information.

Idea validation and prototype testing #

If you have a lot of new feature ideas in your backlog, but you’re not sure which ones to build, you can use in-app messaging to validate ideas with your users, test feature prototypes, or gather feedback from beta users of your new MVP. 

For this purpose, you can use techniques like fake-door testing, A/B testing, prototype testing, and others. For example, with fake-door tests. you can create a tooltip to announce a not-yet-existing feature. Once a user clicks over the tooltip, it will display a message explaining that it’s still a work in progress, and you’ll gather valuable data from clicks. You could also ask users what they would expect to see from the new feature by running an in-app survey.

User feedback #

Speaking of surveys – collecting user feedback is one of the common in-app messaging use cases. Capturing customer satisfaction and sentiment throughout the product lifecycle will show that you’re really customer-centric and that you value users’ opinions. 

How many surveys to serve up? Our Benchmark Report shows that, on average, Chameleon customers launch 18 Microsurveys a year. Keep in mind that these surveys have a different purpose and they show to different users at the different stages of their journey. Our data also shows that the average Microsurvey has a completion rate of around 60%.

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In-app messaging best practices #

It's time to go deeper into best practices that can help you create more impactful in-app messages for your product.

Copy best practices #

According to Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner, a customer feedback solution for SaaS companies, getting the copy for in-app messages right is super important.

“You should definitely keep the copy clear and concise. If you put yourself in the shoes of a user, it’s easy to understand why. Your users are probably working on a specific task and they might not expect a message popping up. Even if your intentions are right and the message is helpful, their attention bandwidth will be limited. If your message is complicated and too long, dismissing the prompt is the natural thing to do.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

As Moritz Dausinger further explains, at Refiner they measure how well an in-app survey is performing by looking at the response rates. 

“We found that little changes in the copy can already have a huge impact. For example:

  • Add a catchy Emoji (👋) or illustrations to your in-app messages. It will make your message appear more human and fun.

  • Personalize your in-app message. We had one client seeing an increase of 5% of response rates by putting the first name of the user in the headline of their survey.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

Keeping it clear and concise is certainly one of the best practices to keep in mind when it comes to copy. Let’s take a look at some more:

  • Use plain language: Instead of overloading the message with technical jargon and complex words that are hard to understand, use plain language and simple words. Your message needs to be instantly understandable.

  • Stay relevant and contextual: As we already mentioned, you don’t have to explain everything about your product or a new feature. Align the in-app message with the user persona and their stage of the journey to inform them only about the things they need to know at that moment.

  • Align with your brand voice: Each in-app message should be aligned with your brand voice. For example, if your brand typically uses a conversational, friendly voice, you shouldn’t be strict and formal in your in-app messages. It will only confuse your users.

  • Be mindful of the tone of voice: The tone of voice will depend on the occasion and the context. Keep in mind the users’ current mental state and cognitive load at the moment they’re seeing the message and align the tone with it. This is especially true for error and success in-app messages.

Design best practices #

The way you design your in-app messages is crucial for success. Does the tour follow your brand guidelines? Does a tooltip stand out on a page? Is the onboarding checklist clear and eye-catching? These are only some of the questions to start with. 

As Moritz Dausinger explains:

“You basically have two seemingly opposing goals when designing an in-app message: you want to respect your brand guidelines or provide a pleasant experience to your users, and you want to make your message “pop” a bit to increase visibility and response rates. We usually recommend using brand colors and making sure that the widget looks like the rest of your app. Adding a colored border or a backdrop to the widget increases the visibility of your message without harming the UX.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

Here are the best practices you should always keep in mind:

  • Align with your brand style: Customize the in-app messages to match your brand colors, fonts, CTA button style, and overall user experience. As we like to say at Chameleon, your tours, guides, tooltips, modals, and checklists need to blend in.

  • Make the message stand out: Your in-app messages also need to grab the attention and motivate users to follow through. This is where specific animation, media, or special effects can come in handy. 

  • Use familiar UI/UX patterns: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Stick to the patterns like hotspots, icons, and element rules your users are already familiar with. It will only help you enhance the experience.

  • Don’t break the (unwritten) pop-up rules: Be specifically cautious about pop-ups. They will inevitably interrupt the users’ flow, but make sure they don’t completely block the page and prevent users from completing their tasks. Always ensure there’s a clearly visible dismiss or snooze button and don’t overwhelm users with too many pop-ups in a row.

Signal-to-noise best practices #

Not everyone needs to see every in-app message you create. 

Use granular user segmentation to show the right message at the right time, to the right cohort of users. Start by answering the questions: Who needs to see this? Why is this important for them? Why now? Timing is of the utmost importance here.

As Moritz Dausinger points out: 

“Getting the timing right is probably the most important thing to consider when implementing in-app messages or in-app surveys. That’s because context matters. With the right timing, you can show valuable information to your users when they most need it. On the contrary, if you are not careful, you risk providing an annoying experience.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

But what is the right moment to show an in-app message? Moritz continues his explanation:

“It really depends on your use case. Some messages are time-critical, for example when you want to inquire about the experience a user had with a certain feature, while other in-app messages are less time-sensitive. The more control you have over the timing, the better. So watch out that the tool you are using has a segmentation engine that allows you to target users based on their traits and in-app behavior.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

As a good example of a well-timed in-app survey, Moritz shares the example from Prezly, one of their customers, who created a survey triggered when the users start the 100th session in their dashboard.

“Prezly went the extra mile when they customized the in-app survey. Next to brand colors, they also added an animated GIF to the first survey question. On top of that, the survey is launched at a very specific moment of a user’s journey. Needless to say, their response rates went through the roof.”

– Moritz Dausinger, Co-Founder and CEO of Refiner

Now, let’s go through more best practices that will help you ensure the right signal-to-noise ratio: 

  • Lead to value quickly: This is especially important for user onboarding and new feature announcements. So each step of a tour, each tooltip, and each checklist item needs to provide real value. Don’t use in-app messages to state the obvious and miss the precious opportunity to drive users to their “aha!” moment.

  • Don’t overwhelm users: If your product has a steep learning curve (and even if it doesn’t), it’s much better to create several tours that will be shown at different stages of the journey than one, long tour. You can use progressive disclosure as a guiding pattern here. That way, you’ll reveal only the essential information and help users manage the complexity of features. 

  • Keep the fundamental UX principles in mind: For every in-product message that you create, make sure it checks all the usability boxes. You can use Jacob Nielsen’s 10 usability principles for interaction design as a guideline. It will help you ensure that your in-app messages are helpful, usable, and accessible.

Best in-app messaging examples #

We’ve mastered the theory. Now, let’s see how these best practices play out in real life. We’ll break down some of the best in-app messaging examples from SaaS companies.

Example #1: LANDR’s onboarding tour #


LANDR is a music editing software that offers a well-balanced, informative onboarding tour (built with Chameleon 😉) to their new users. In three steps they explain and showcase everything that someone who just signed up needs to know.   

Why this is good: Even though some of the tour steps are text-heavy, the copy includes the right type of information, along with a conversational and reassuring tone of voice. Accompanied by the on-brand design and relevant visuals, it makes a delightful onboarding experience.

Example #2: Figma’s new commenting features #


Figma has recently redesigned their feedback feature to make the comments easier to read and manage. They used a simple 3-step walkthrough to explain what has changed and how users can benefit from it.

Why this is good: This redesign announcement grabs the attention of the users as they sign back into the product. It offers short textual explanations that communicate the benefits, along with clear CTA buttons to guide users through. Each step also includes effective GIFs for a visual representation of changes, which sets the ground for feature adoption.

Example #3: Vivaldi’s personalized onboarding flow #


Vivaldi is a web browser that positions itself against its biggest competitor – Google Chrome – by offering the ad and tracker blocking functionality and built-in translations. As a highly customizable browser that offers a lot more than that, by asking “How much Vivaldi do you want?” on the first step of the onboarding flow for first-time users, it does a great job of personalizing the experience.

Why this is good: The visual comparison of options available speaks clearly to different user personas and offers the “choose your own adventure” type of onboarding. The clear explanation that the most important features are available even if a user doesn’t want the fully customized browser is a nice addition.

Example #4: Mixpanel’s new Dashboard tour #


Mixpanel has redesigned their Dashboard and created a well-rounded tour to explain the changes (once again, it’s a Chameleon-built Tour 🦎). When the redesign was released, they announced it on a Dashboard page with an attention-grabbing modal aligned with their brand style.  

Why this is good: Using a modal with the CTA button to encourage users to start a tour, and then using lightboxes to point users’ attention in the direction of important changes, is a great way to motivate and engage users. It’s also an excellent example of progressive disclosure in action.

Example #5: Chameleon’s new Builder UI announcement #

The Chameleon Builder has had a major UI overhaul recently. We put all available options for customizing the Experiences in one menu called the Control Panel. This panel also offers quick references to know if the Position, URL Rules, or Element Rules are matching (green) or not (red) based on the setup. 

Why this is good: First of all, we listened to customer feedback and simplified the editing experience. Then, with a clear, benefit-oriented message inside a Tooltip, we announced the new look and functionality of the Builder. Overall, we made the announcement useful, valuable, and distinctive yet non-intrusive.

Final thoughts on in-app messaging #

That’s all, folks. We hope you learned something new and gained valuable advice, along with actionable tips you can start implementing right away. 

Remember, in-app messaging is a delicate matter. Treat it with great care because it can easily make or break the user experience. Think of it as a conversation with your users and a powerful tool for activation, engagement, and retention. 

In other words, don’t be like the store manager from the beginning of our story. Use in-app messaging to inform, educate, and delight your users.

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