Engaging Users with App Updates

Regular app updates can help you stay competitive on the App Store, as each new release is an opportunity to reengage existing users and attract new users. Find out how different developers approach planning, implementing, and marketing updates to their apps.

Planning a Roadmap

Many successful apps on the App Store have roadmaps that extend beyond the app’s initial launch. Smule, the developer behind the social music apps Sing! Karaoke, AutoRap, and Magic Piano, prototypes major feature updates over several months and releases smaller performance updates at least once a month. “How do you get users to stay around longer?” asks Jeannie Yang, Chief Product and Design Officer at Smule. “You build a better product. Build better features. Build more reasons for them to come back.”

At BuzzFeed, the roadmaps for BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News are planned one quarter at a time to allow the company to better respond to feedback. “We’re usually looking at things about three months forward,” says Ryan Johnson, Vice President of Mobile Engineering at BuzzFeed. “That’s a good balance between having a plan and having the flexibility to respond to new things, whether that’s a new API that comes out, new data that we learn, or industry changes.”

“It’s really important to us that we provide a cutting edge experience for our users, and that means tying updates with iOS releases and hardware releases," says Johnson. "We saw that a lot of our users are early adopters and those are some of the most passionate users. One of the things we consider is: Are we providing users with something they can see and interact with so that they can see that we are investing in the app?”

Phased Release for Automatic Updates

You can release an app update to an increasing percentage of customers over a seven-day period. Learn more

It’s really important to us that we provide a cutting edge experience for our users, and that means tying updates with iOS releases and hardware releases.

Ryan Johnson, Vice President of Mobile Engineering at BuzzFeed.

Are people enjoying using the app? Is it making people’s lives more productive? And what are the features that we can build to support that?

Brady Archambo, Senior Engineering Manager at Slack.
BuzzFeed News uses its screenshots on the App Store to help users understand how new features work.

Announcing Updates

When it’s time to get the word out about major feature updates, there are several channels developers consistently use, including their App Store product page, websites, and social media accounts.

What’s New notes on the App Store are often the first place to let new and existing users know about any changes. If features are added or fixed based on feedback or reviews, it’s an opportunity to communicate directly with users and let them know that they are being heard. Savvy developers use the What’s New notes to support their brand identity, and communicate in the voice of the app instead of in purely technical terms.

Yang says they often see users sharing screenshots of Smule’s What’s New notes on social media. “It’s not just a bullet point, it’s about having a voice and actually talking to users about what’s happening,” she says.

Marketing Channels

  • App Store product page
  • Company and app websites
  • Social media accounts

It’s not just a bullet point, it’s about having a voice and actually talking to users about what’s happening.

Jeannie Yang, Chief Product and Design Officer at Smule.

At Slack, Archambo says the company makes an effort to detail what has changed so that it’s not just “bug fixes and improvements.” He says, “Our iOS team and our QA team will basically come up with a list of features and bugs that have been fixed and then we work with the Editorial team. That team does an amazing job. They take some pretty sad looking release notes and make them a lot better.”

Slack takes advantage of What’s New notes on the App Store.

The Editorial team at BuzzFeed News similarly helps to turn technical-speak into something more engaging. Johnson notes, “In a way, the release notes and the description in the App Store are all extensions of the branding of the app itself, and they are opportunities to educate users on things we have just released.”

Updates are also an opportunity to update screenshots and app previews to highlight new features and functionality. And depending on the scope of the update and any A/B testing, some developers also change their app icons.

Smule regularly refreshes its app icons to coincide with releases to give users a subtle hint that the app has been updated. Holidays, cultural events, and big product launches are all potential opportunities to make an update relevant to users. “Even if its just a little pop of something, it tells the users there’s something new,” says Yang. If users see a new icon and open the app to find new and improved features, they may be more likely to reengage.

Beyond the App Store, these developers use owned channels, such as their websites and social media accounts, to promote their updates. Johnson at BuzzFeed notes, “Depending on the size of the update or the feature that’s launching, we may use all of our existing social media accounts to promote the feature. If this is a major update, where you go from 1.0 to 2.0 we might go all out with promotion on the site, pushing on social media accounts. If it’s a smaller feature we may do it on a more limited subset of accounts, or only promote in a few really focused areas.”

App Icon Updates

Smule regularly refreshes its app icons to coincide with releases, giving users a subtle hint that the app has been updated.
Watch the Smule video

Featured Developers

Smule

San Francisco, California

Apps Mentioned: Sing! Karaoke, Magic Piano

Category: Music

Platforms: iOS, tvOS

View on the App Store

BuzzFeed

New York, New York

Apps Mentioned: BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed News

Category: News

Platforms: iOS, watchOS

View on the App Store

Slack Technologies

San Francisco, California

Apps Mentioned: Slack

Category: Productivity

Platforms: iOS, OS X, watchOS

View on the App Store