Creating a changelog

The secret to scaling product announcements: a changelog

Main illustration: Cathryn Virginia

One of the biggest challenges with marketing a SaaS product is figuring out a way to announce the continuous stream of updates and feature releases while maintaining a sense of sanity.

To stay on top of it, you need to figure out two things:

  1. A framework for scoping announcements based on the relative value of the feature or update.
  2. Tactics that can scale with the cadence you ship at.

We recently shared our evolving approach to scoping announcements, so I want to focus more on the second point. Specifically, the tactics for small releases that are valuable, but don’t necessarily justify a big announcement or significant resources. For these small announcements, there are two common strategies for keeping up with the volume – you can group similar features together into a single announcement, or ruthlessly prioritize and simply not announce the least impactful updates.

It’s not a groundbreaking idea, but grouping similar features into a ‘wrap-up’ announcement is a really useful tactic. First, it maximizes the touchpoints you have with customers by essentially creating a condensed list of all relevant updates.

Collectively, these updates make a single touchpoint more valuable to your customer and it’s more likely that they will engage. And by consolidating touchpoints, you’re less prone to over messaging. This wrap-up announcement can take many forms, from an email to a blog post, or even a webinar – whatever makes sense based on your resources and channels.

“The primary goal of a changelog is to increase feature awareness and adoption”

Ruthlessly prioritizing and forfeiting announcement opportunities can be difficult, especially when those choices are driven by a lack of time and resources. Not only are you faced with choices that will impact the business’ bottom-line, but you need to defend your rationale even if it relies on limited evidence and many assumptions.

This is the reality of the job for a product marketer, so it’s on you to make the most with what you have. That’s why it’s critical to develop a scalable, bare bones announcement plan that you can explain the strategy behind. It’s your safety net for covering everything that’s worthy of an announcement without digging yourself into an insurmountable hole of work. For us, this is a changelog announcement.

Start with a changelog

Nearly every one of our product announcements at Intercom will include a post to our product changes page, also known as our changelog. It’s a curated feed of relevant updates and changes that’s meant to raise customer awareness around what’s new in the product. It differs from release notes, in that it’s not just a bulleted list of technical changes, and it differs from help docs because its primary purpose is not to improve product proficiency. The primary goal of the changelog is to increase feature awareness and adoption and that’s why it’s owned by the product marketing team at Intercom. Even with this focus, a changelog can take different forms, both in structure and content, to meet the needs of your customers and your business.

Curating a changelog

Although it’s not difficult to create changelog posts, not all product changes warrant one. In general, it should be limited to the updates that are valuable to most of your customers. At Intercom, we tend to avoid posts about bug fixes, speed improvements and small updates that users don’t see value in. But it’s not always that straightforward. We have many spirited debates about whether certain changes deserve a post. And that can be a good thing. It’s the tough calls that help your team gain a shared understanding of what matters to customers and how to prioritize product announcements.

“Changelog posts should be reserved for the updates your customers care most about”

So how often should you post to your changelog? You want to announce relevant updates, but avoid overwhelming your users. You also want to avoid large gaps between posts. If there’s a year-long gap in your posts, it can give the impression that your product isn’t progressing. All this is to say that there’s no hard-and-fast rules here.

In the past year, we had 92 posts to our changelog. We’ve had up to 17 posts in a single day, and on the other end, a few weeks without a new post (it can get quiet over the holidays). Whatever your strategy is, just keep your updates relevant, somewhat consistent, and always considerate of your customers’ time, otherwise they’ll tune out.

How to create a useful changelog post

Your posts should always be clear, concise and benefit-oriented. Like any announcement, you need to distill the value in a way that resonates with customers. Be sure to include the following:

At its best, a changelog post inspires customers to use your product in more powerful ways that will in turn make them more valuable to your business. And yes, the richer the content, the better.

Want to go beyond the basics? Here are a few things to add your posts to make them shine:

  • Image or video
  • Proof-points and customer claims
  • Credits (show the people behind your business!)
  • Links to further resources

Promoting your changelog

Finally, when you’re ready to post to the changelog, consider some quick and easy ways to promote it. You can link to it at the bottom of any emails you’re sending to customer, or if it’s on-brand, share it on social media. Finally, make sure your sales and support team are aware of it, so they can share it with customers directly.

One the best things about a changelog is how flexible they can be to fit your needs. How do you approach changelogs? Let us know below 👇 or over on Twitter.

Intercom on Marketing – Desktop Article – horizontal 2019