The Ultimate Guide for In-App Notifications

No matter what kind of application you have, in-app messaging is an absolutely essential piece of the user engagement mix.

In-app notifications do a few important things:

  1. They keep your users up to date on the most important activities in your app. In may ways, in-app notification centers provide users a very effective and considerate filter of thing things he/she needs to focus on. "Instead of searching through the entire app to find what you need, just check out these few items." A great way to streamline your user experience.
  2. They give you users the sense - or the confirmation - that your app is useful. That things are happening and it's providing value. Then last thing you want is your application to appear to be a ghost town with nothing going on. These alerts help give a user confidence that things are happening. They give your app energy.
  3. Notifications are like little endorphin shots. Because these notifications are generally based on positive activities ("Someone liked your post" or "Someone mentioned you"), they become things to which people look forward. When they come to your product and see they have notifications, they feel special. They generate and attach positive feelings to your product.
  4. When used correctly, these notifications can create essential habit loops than can lead to addiction (for more on this, check out Nir Eyal's book Hooked). When users see consistent alerts in their account, it creates an 'itch' that they want to scratch on a regular basis...which gets them coming back again, and again, and again...

With that said, there are many, many different opportunities for the kinds of notifications you can send through your in-app notification center. We've created this guide to provide some thoughts, inspiration and support for your in-app notification plans.

(and if you want to power your in-app notification center, look no further than our InBox by Knowtify product.)

Without further adu...

The Ultimate Guide to In-App Notifications

In order to make this guide as useful as possible, we have broken down these examples by type of product. You can click on any of the categories and skip right to the section most relevant to you.

Or, of course, you can read them all. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Pick your application:


For any kind of project management, workflow or collaboration application, in-app messages are not only important for insuring that a team is activated on the platform, but essential for insuring that users are engaged and getting work done.

Nothing is worse than a project management application that doesn't help enable productivity and enhanced collaboration.

Here are some important in-app notifications for these types of products:

Activation notifications

In-app messages can be very important for activating new users - and this is key...especially for this type of application. The main function of these application is to enable collaboration, so it's essential to get a critical mass of users on each account or else the product simply won't create value.

How about a quick Welcome Note?
A welcome email is super effective, but how about a welcome message for when they first log into the product. Nothing invasive, but a nice note with some specific instructions for getting started. Very contextual.

The Activation Nudge
A simple prompt for people who have yet invited any team members. Don't be afraid to nudge - the more compelling, the better.

Team Member Joined Alert
A potentially powerful alert. Letting users know when other team members join the account can help prompt them to be more active.

The Feature Introduction
A quick notice to make sure that each user is aware of features along the path toward activation.

The Congratulatory Notification
A quick congrats goes a long way in making users feel good about becoming active. This kind of reward can really help motivate users to come back (and keep an eye on your notification center).

Ongoing engagement

For a productivity/collaboration application, the key to keeping users engaged for a long time is really about keeping them informed about specific activities happening in the account.

Task Assignment
An essential notification. This is directed to whom the task is assigned.

Task Completion
Essential for staying on top of progress (and also for letting your users know your app is generating value)!

Mention Alert
For when someone is mentioned in a comment (or anywhere in the application).

Project Started Alert
Notifying users when a new project is started is very helpful and great for keeping users engaged with the work.

Project Completion
Nice sense of achievement when users can see work getting done.

Task Reminders
A nice alert for users who have overdue tasks. Helps to keep users on top of their work.

New Feature Announcement
Announcing new features is a great way to promote new feature releases.

Upgrade Due Alert
A very simple way to make sure your users know when their accounts need upgrading.

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For anyone who has used (or tried to use) a CRM or any sales-oriented piece of software, you know how hard it is to get a sales team to actually participate in it. In-app notifications can actually help with this (especially if they are combined with smart email notifications as well).

Here are some example of the types of notifications a CRM application could use:

Activation notifications

A Welcome Note?
A welcome message from a CRM?! Why not. Welcome a new user and help him/her get started with some light instruction.

Account Setup
A little nudge to get a new user integrated with the product. Could be a specific integration or even a CSV upload.

Team Member Invite Reminder
For CRM systems, adding team members is an important part of the activation process. Adding an message for any user who hasn't invited any team members is a good idea.

Feature Introduction
This is a great way to introduce new users to specific important features.

Case Study
Case studies are a great way to activate a new user of your software - especially if you can target that case study to their specific use case. Give them a little taste with a link to a more in-depth study.

Salespeople love achievement. So congratulating them on hitting specific activation milestones is a great way to motivate them to keep going...

Ongoing engagement

There are some fundamental, 'must-have' notifications to keep users productive and engaged in a CRM and some more creative notifications that will drive even deeper engagement. They include:

Lead/Task Assignment
Obviously, if a team is assigning each other tasks or leads in a CRM, it's essential that the recipient be alerted.

Mention Alert
Very similar to an assignment alert--this is for when one salesperson mentions another in a post or comment.

Overdue Tasks
A regular daily alert to notify a user of overdue tasks may be super helpful.

Feature Highlight
This could be a notification to alert users of a new feature or a feature that he/she hasn't used.

How about an alert when someone on the team closes a deal?
What a great way to promote camaraderie (and healthy competition) amongst a sales team.

How about Weekly Reports?
CRMs usually have two user layers - user and management. For management, reporting is essential. Adding weekly summary notifications is a great way to keep managers engaged.

Upgrade Due Alert
A very simple way to make sure your users know when their accounts need upgrading.

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For social media applications - ala Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest - then in-app notifications are an essential part of the user experience.

Some important notifications for these types of applications include:

Activation notifications

Many social media applications put a lot of effort into their onboarding experience for new users - as they should. But, often times, these onboarding experiences are perishable - meaning once a new user goes through them, the information provided in them generally goes away. Users might take away/remember a couple of the lessons presented in onboarding, but they likely won't retain everything.

Using a non-perishable notification center in conjunction with this onboarding is a great way to reinforce the lessons from onboarding based on what an early user might/might not do.

Some examples:

A Congratulatory Message
It's important for early users to feel some early wins. After they create their first post, first invite, first upload...give 'em some props to motivate more action.

A Feature Nudge
Early on it's important to keep new users aware of the important features - notifications can help with that. Using data from a user's account makes these notifications more compelling.

Ongoing engagement notifications

This is the bread and butter of social networks. These notifications literally mean the difference between great engagement and...a ghost town.

Connection Request
Connections are the building blocks of social networks. That means, whether it's a friend request, connection request, new follower, a date request, or otherwise...these are are essential notifications.

Connection Confirmation
And the confirmation...

New Comment
Typical alert when someone comments or likes or interacts with your posts.

New Posts
How about an alert for a new post from one of your connections.

Birthday (or other) Reminder
Birthday reminders have become some of the stickiest elements of your favorite social networks. But it doesn't just have to be birthdays. Anniversaries, job changes, etc.

Activity Update
A nice update when a specific post reaches an activity milestone. This is great endorphin shot!

Low Activity Alert
Or how about notifying if/when they need some help generating more activity.

Suggested Connections?
Periodic suggestions for connection could be essential for growing the network value of...your social network.

Trending Content?
Highlighting trending posts, stories, content is a great way to help your users more efficiently consume what's happening on your social network, by highlighting what might be most interesting.

Feature Announcement
When you release a new feature - users should know about it in the context of their usage.

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Media sites, from Huffington Post to YouTube are dependent on content "consumption". For these applications, "engagement" = "consumption". Smart, relevant notifications can help increase this "consumption" by point users in a more relevant direction and making the experience even more enjoyable.

At the same time, many of today's media sites are becoming more and more social (in an attempt to drive more 'consumption'), so many of the effective social alerts will apply here as well.

Some examples of effective notifications for media sites:

Activation notifications

Unlike many other applications, many media sites don't have real "onboarding" or activation requirements, but there are some early notifications that may be helpful for early visitors.

Mailing List Invite?
Many media sites use pop-ups to try to gather email addresses for visitors, but a persistent signup notification might be a better way to approach it.

New, Relevant Posts
An alert showing new posts in a collection, by a specific author, etc is a great way to direct a reader's attention to something interesting.

Breaking News Alerts
A very obvious use of the notification on media sites is to alert readers of urgent or timely stories.

Ad Placement?
This may seem crazy, but using an in-app notification to promote deals from sponsors and advertisers may not be a terrible idea.

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Marketplaces (ie - Etsy, Threadless, Tradesy, etc) always have interesting messaging challenges because of their two distinct user-bases - buyers and sellers. Each of these user groups have a unique experiences with these products and, as such, must have different messaging tracks. As such, both parties can benefit from in-app notifications.

Here are some ideas and typical in-app notifications directed at marketplace Sellers:

Welcome for Sellers
Sellers, more than buyers, need support in becoming activated. Making sure they can create their store, upload first product, submit first design, etc is essential.

Congratulations for Posting!
Once a seller creates their first listing, a congratulatory message with help for generating success would be tremendously helpful.

Comments from Buyers
Notifying sellers when potential buyers comment or post question their listing is an essential part of the seller experience.

Social Activity Alerts
Many marketplaces have some kind of 'social' activity for buyers. They can follow sellers, like products, etc. Sellers should receive notifications whenever any of these things happen. Endorphins, endorphins, endorphins...

Transaction Alert
Transactions - what Sellers care about most. An alert for each transaction is super important.

On the other side of every marketplace are the Buyers. Here are some important notifications to enhance their experience and keep them motivated:

Welcome for Buyers
Most marketplaces are fairly easy for a new Buyer to use, so typical "onboarding" isn't necessary. But a Welcome message might be nice.

New Buyer Initial Discount
Motivating new buyers with a discount is a great way to get that purchase behavior started. You can get even more sophisticated with these by targeting new users coming from specific referral sources, etc.

How about Flash Sale Alerts?
Flash sale alerts are great ways to keep Buyers engaged and returning back to a marketplace on a regular basis.

Product Recommendations
Periodic recommendations for relevant or trending products is a great way to push Buyers to action.

Purchase Receipts
A considerate way to help buyers manage any purchase receipts.

Updates on Products or Stores
In marketplaces, many times Buyers have favorite stores, sellers or categories. In-app notifications are great ways to keep Buyers updated on anything happening with their favorite places.

Frequent Buying Rewards
Some of the most effective notifications for any application are 'reward'-based. In a marketplace setting creating a reward system for top Buyers is a tremendous way to drive continuous engagement.

New Features
For both Buyers and Sellers, announcing new features and functionality in the context of the product is very important.

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Traditionally, e-commerce applications haven't used in-app notifications very much - but in today's world these smart in-app alerts are essential for keeping buyers engaged, loyal and making additional purchases.

Unlike Marketplace products, E-commerce notifications are directed exclusively to buyers on the site. Some effective notifications for buyers on e-commerce sites include:

Welcome Buyers
While 'onboarding' isn't something needed with e-commerce applications, a welcome message for new buyers, helping them understand more about what makes your site special, or even an initial discount, is a great way to set a good tone.

Daily Deals?
In-app notifications are a great way to promote special deals on specific products, flash sales or any general discount. For the e-commerce site, this is a great way to move product and keep buyers engaged.

New Product Announcement
When a new, relevant product is added to a category, this is a great way to promote it.

Purchase Confirmation
Whenever someone makes a purchase, it's nice to have confirmation saved in their notification inbox.

Status Updates for Purchases
As a buyer, this is a very helpful notification.

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If your application doesn't fit neatly into one of the above categories, don't worry - we've got you covered.

We know there are many other types of product and applications that have their own unique opportunities to use in-app notifications effectively. For fun, we'll walk through a bunch here:

REVIEW SITE - New Review Posted
For anyone receiving reviews, this is an essential notification.

REVIEW SITE - Aggregate Reviews
For high-volume reviews, a daily summary is very helpful.

An alert for new payments due can protect users from incurring late fees!

BANKING - Payment Processed
Very helpful to know when a payment has been processed in or out of an account.

Helping the rich get richer.

TRAVEL SITE - Fare Reduction
Make someone's day!

B2B APP - NPS Survey
Capture more responses with a contextual, in-app survey.

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Of course, the notification examples listed in this guide are just scratching the surface of what's possible with in-app messaging campaigns. Done right, in-app notifications can become a cornerstone of your engagement programs. They can, not only, increase engagement for users once they are in the product, but can actually provide motivation for driving users back to the product on a regular basis.

We hope this guide has provide you, at the very least, with a great starting point for building out your in-app campaigns. If you'd like any help planning your programs, you can always talk to one of our engagement specialists. Just email us at and we'll be happy to chat!