Don't just use emails to onboard your users. Here is our breakdown of how and when to the different channels.

How do you onboard users? Is it just email? Do you use Intercom? Does your product have tooltips?

Effective onboarding utilizes the benefits of all three different channels, as recommended by user onboarding experts at some of the top companies. Here's our guide on how to use each channel effectively and the tools that can help.

Let's evaluate the pros and cons of each channel:

The three channels we're considering are: email; in-app messaging; and product tours. Understanding the benefits of each will help you decide how and when to use each in a way that your users appreciate.


  • PRO: Deliverability! Your signups will get it, regardless of if they're discovered the amazingness of your product, and can read it wherever they are, without much extra work
  • CON: Soooo many emails! πŸ“₯ πŸ“₯ πŸ“₯ It's noisy and standing out is hard. If people consider your emails spammy and unsubscribe then you may lose this key channel to engage them forever.
  • CON: They are fairly one-directional: you are telling your users about something. Rarely does it lead to conversation or a user taking some action (that isn't Archive or Delete)


  • PRO: Right here, right now 🎬 -- your users have context; they're already within your product and are ready to read, learn, do etc. They are far more likely to respond to what you have to say.
  • CON: Only for engaged users. Your non-activated users are never going to see these (which is why you need to get your new users to their "aha" moment in their first experience!)
  • CON: Typically one-directional and easy to ignore, because they occur in the same place (sidebar)


  • PRO: Context + Direction. You capture engaged users and show them something they can act upon. They better learn your interface (by doing) and this is far more effective for longer-term engagement
  • CON: It's really easy to design terrible tours that frustrate users 😀
  • CON: They can be a crutch for bad interfaces and for neglecting improvements that need to be made in your product design. (Which is why some people, incorrectly, believe that all you need is an intuitive interface.)

You're not alone; using these tools will make it much easier!

The good news is that there are now awesome SaaS tools that let anyone design, build, implement, test, iterate on any of these channels, in a quick and inexpensive way.

Don't build your own email management tool, your own in-app chat or your own product tours - it's not worth the time! If you don't believe it, calculate it for yourself.

We use MailChimp and to manage newsletters and triggered-emails. We use Intercom for in-app messaging (and love it) and we recommend Chameleon for product tours! πŸ‘‹πŸ½

So when should I use each of these channels?

Glad you asked. Here's what we advise:

EMAIL: Use it for transactional messages (e.g. email validation) and for longer-form content that's designed to re-engage users. Send case studies or customer interviews or research findings πŸ€“ as a way to drive motivation for users to come back to your product.

During onboarding it's important not to send your users other, non-onboarding emails. For example: don't send them your marketing or blog drip campaigns, because that will detract from the onboarding emails they will receive.

IN-APP MESSAGING: Use it for important announcements and critical product changes (e.g. dowtime or company news) that are relevant for active users. Also use it where you might want to instigate a conversation (to get feedback) or to congratulate users πŸŽ‰ (we don't do this enough!)

PRODUCT TOURS: Use them to highlight the value of features and nudge users towards key steps they need to take to make great use of your product. They can help users to engage with your interface. They are an aid for feature discovery but not a shortcut to get users to do what you want them to do. To create effective tours follow our design guide.

How to use each channel (best practices)

There is some great advice out there on how to do this well for each channel. We have some clear opinions and if you're interested then drop us a line to discuss but here is some advice on how to begin:

So here are some of the key takeaways:

  1. Use a combination of channels - don't just rely on email
  2. Use SaaS tools to build and manage these communications
  3. It's easy, quick and affordable to get started, so don't put off improving user activation

Of course with all of this, it's critical to define how to measure success. We recommend a single metric that everyone is bought into that you can rally your campaign around.

We would love to show you how to use Chameleon to build great product tours, alongside emails and in-app messaging. If you're interested, please let us know the best time to chat here.

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