If you're a product-led team or even a product-led business, then you're probably familiar with release notes and what they're for—no worries if not, we'll get to that.
The art of writing release notes that rock is a tricky form of writing to conquer. Fear not, this article is here to guide you through writing perfect release notes and share some leading examples.
What are release notes?
Think of them as an ongoing instructions manual. For new products, release notes guide users on how to get the most of a product.
Today, rapid prototyping leads to early releases of products or at least MVPs, and data feedback drives many renditions, consumers are no longer expecting to buy the same product for life. They're expecting to buy a version of that product in its current state, knowing bug fixes and improvements will continue to evolve as they do.
Product updates, app updates, or new features come into play here as well. A business can't implement a new feature or changes to a product without informing the user of the changes they've made. Product release notes inform users of everything that's changing, why, and what new benefits this brings the consumer.
Why are release notes important?
Release notes are a customer-facing changelog; they're a reflection of all the hard work your product developers, engineers, and researchers have put in behind the scenes to bring your customers the most valuable product possible. They are your business's opportunity to show users that you care and that consumers have the latest version of your product.
Plus, release notes are an educational piece of material for your users. New releases in digital products can often be frustrating if not communicated clearly—especially when customers are used to things being a certain way.
Release notes are your opportunity to retain user engagement, and potentially build it, while focusing on performance improvement and building a more valuable product.
Best practices for writing release notes that rock
Let's dive into the thick of it all and explore some best practices for creating your release notes that serve their purpose with style.
1. Keep them brief
Firstly, try to keep your notes as brief as possible. Think about the length of a tweet. Can you fit your release notes into 280 characters? If you can, while still getting across everything you need to, then go for it.
The shorter, the better—just don't cut information or lose personality in the process.
2. Avoid jargon
Keep this in mind and write as plainly as possible.
3. Stay educational
Yes, our release notes are an opportunity to engage with customers and showcase our charming, witty, kind, branded tone of voice, but remember this content is educational.
Ensure your release notes serve their purpose and keep them informative.
4. Show customers you care
You're announcing product updates because you've learned that your product can be a better solution. You care about your customers and their experience with your business, so showcase it.
Let customers know you're putting them first, and you've implemented changes to help them.
5. Keep distribution channels in mind
There are so many different ways of announcing release notes and product changes:
- Social Media
- Web pages
- Product faqs
- Web apps
- Security updates
- In-app messaging
- Android play store bios
- Apple macOS or ios app store bios
The list is long. Consider your distribution strategy and the amount of info you can provide on that channel before linking to more information, or even if you need to.
6. Get visual
The mind processes images 6,000x quicker than it does text. If you can explain something better with an image over copy, then do so. Let images lift the overall experience of your customers and the release notes.
If you're writing for a channel that doesn't support images, then consider emojis, or font formatting options instead.
7. Make them fun
Admittedly, release notes don't have the most exciting of names. However, don't let this affect the view your customers have of them. Make your release notes fun, engaging, and even something that customers look forward to.
Think of innovative ways you can showcase change, and lighten what is stereotypically a dull experience.
8. Get feedback on them
Lastly, on our list for best practices when writing good release notes, is to ask for feedback. Find ways to survey your customers and get their feedback on how you're delivering release notes and product changes.
Try to target an array of customers, from those that have only been with you for a couple of months to those that were there from day one. Everyone will have interesting insights to share—if they have the time and incentive to share them.
5 great examples of release notes
There are some great release notes out there. It's a good idea to think of some from your favorite brand or try a Google search to find some specific to your industry.
Whether announcing new keyboard shortcuts, updated color pickers, CSS changes, whatever it is your business does and is upgrading, we've collected a few top examples, inline with release notes best practices to help get you on your way.
Codility— the one with the GIFs
Codility, the recruitment platform to remotely hire engineers and developers, keep things simple with their product release notes. Codility announces new features and product changes clearly and gives precisely the right amount of information their customers need.
What's different about the way they do it? The power of the GIF. It's a simple tool that is greatly overlooked by many companies looking to spice up the visual elements of their campaigns.
GIFs can be a great way to give a quick tutorial of your new product or feature while being a low lift to create and having a minimal effect on a page load speed.
Slack—the one with the campaign
Slack has a fantastic reputation for communication, and so they should, with a mission attempting to transform business communication. Their release notes go a step further and they create entire campaigns around release notes.
In September of 2020, Slack released Slack Connect, a new feature that allows multiple organizations to connect in the same channel and work together in real-time—essentially eradicating emails.
However, just announcing this massive new feature wasn't enough. Slack built user cases around it with real businesses, landing pages for it, and a social media content plan supported by smart graphics and smarter copy.
The entire campaign is on-brand and ensures their customers—or potential customers—have a 360° view of this new feature, what it can do, and inspiration for how to use it.
Teamwork: the one with the release notes roadmap
A great example of showing customers you care. Teamwork gives their customers a complete roadmap of the things they're working on. They have an insightful combination of updates done recently, a short overview of them, and an option to click through and learn more.
Teamwork is actively showing customers that they're always working with this product roadmap. Their roadmap solution is for current customers wondering what's to come and potential release dates. Plus, these latest updates can act as a selling point for customers considering their solution over the competition.
Brawl Stars: the one that’s fun!
We're branching away from SaaS for a moment to take a look at how the B2C world creates release notes. The gaming industry is massive, and many industries can learn a lot from the communities they're building and the enjoyment they're plugging into development updates.
Brawl Stars is an incredible example of how release notes can be done well and come in different content forms. The game goes through drastic updates and communicates these via a Youtube series: Brawl Talk. The video is a combination of informative and educational while staying true to their brand and appeasing their fans and followers.
Think about ways your own business can take the engagement strategy, energy, and ultimately fun. They're plugging into their release notes and putting an innovative product spin on release notes of your own.
Unsplash: the one keeping it brief
Unsplash, the image sourcing online catalogue, delivers their release notes briefly, avoiding too much technical jargon, and uses images to lift the customer's experience.
The stock image library is constantly building out new integrations and features to ensure they stay on top, which means many changes, a lot of the time.
However, they've chosen an appropriate format to deliver their release notes—email. They give people a good overview of changes without scrolling through too much content they don't want to read.
Who should write release notes?
Release notes are essentially customer-facing marketing material and need to be treated specifically with end users in mind. Don't let your developers or engineers write your release notes. Yes, they can write briefs of them, but these briefs need to go to your content marketing team.
Release notes need to radiate your brand, be understandable for consumers, and delivered with a tone of voice people recognize. They need to be written with the user experience in mind, as much as the same thoughts lead product innovation.
Let your writers understand what's new and suitably explain the change to your audience, just ensure your product team can proofread their work before launching.
Wrapping up our guide on how to write release notes
That's everything you need to know on release notes. Remember, from the android play store to the company blog, keep them brief, on-brand, and innovative where you can. Release notes don't need to be on every communication channel you have; it's down to your business to decide where's best to publish them, as well as how to do so.
If you're looking to create release notes for your product or product features, then we've got you covered. Use this free release notes template and start writing release notes that elevate your brand and your customers' experience with your product.