Personal, not pushy: 6 best practices for push notifications

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Push notifications can be a powerful tool for a product manager to connect with her users and encourage them to re-engage with her app. Done right, push notifications will increase app engagement and retention. Done wrong, they will cause users to uninstall the app altogether. In fact, as we wrote in a recent blog post, your audience is likely to bolt if you spam them, send generic messages, or trick them into taking a particular action.

On the other hand, sending just one notification too many can make 6.1 percent of users drop your app, according to Localytics. As you surpass the overload point, more users will disengage, and the more you overshare, the more they flee. A product manager’s ability to master push communications separates great apps from good apps. We should know. Our decade of experience working on City Guide, the explore app, and Swarm, the life-logging app, have allowed us to test in-market what drives engagement and delights users—as well as what disengages them. And now, we’re happy to share our learnings with you.

If you’re interested in some best practices for better push, take a look at our six recommendations below.

Coming Up with the Right Copy and Content

To effectively drive app engagement using push, it’s important that you consider three key things as you craft your message: be specific, be consistent, and have a strong call-to-action.

Be specific. Crafting a compelling message with limited real estate is difficult but possible. Think of Tweets—when done right, they can say so much with so little, while also talking to someone rather than at her. Our tip—find a simple but pertinent nugget of information to communicate to customers.

Be consistent. It’s important to maintain a consistent writing style throughout the user experience. Push notifications should not be excluded from this rule, reflecting the style and tone of the rest of your app. For example, push notifications to users of our City Guide app tend to take a conversational or colloquial tone, phrasing recommendations in the style of a trusted friend.

Have a strong call to action. Pings that encourage users to do something tend to drive the highest engagement. For example, if you are a quick-service restaurant, and you want to re-engage lapsed users, consider a push notification that doesn’t just say, “Try this new beverage.” Instead, you might say, “Haven’t seen you in a few weeks. Get your go-to drink—our famous caramel latte—the next block over.”

Thinking Through Location-Based Notifications

Now that you’ve nailed down content and copy, it’s time to turn your attention to delivery strategy. It should be no surprise that reaching users at the right place and time will strengthen the effectiveness of your message. In fact, our experience working on City Guide and Swarm has revealed three things to consider as you think through push strategy: take a conservative approach to customer outreach, consider context when sending communications, and try not to repeat the same notification twice. We’ve provided some tips and tricks below.

Start conservative. It’s important to ramp up communications slowly, finding a healthy balance between message usefulness and intrusiveness. Even though your users have agreed to give you access to their location data, a gradual approach to push will allow them to learn the value of your notifications. Don’t forget to track engagement metrics such as time spent in app, session duration, and more to better understand what works best with different audience bases.

Consider context. To ensure your message lands, include factors such as time of day and location when you craft your notification strategy. Taking these contextual cues into account allows you to send messages that are relevant to the individual. Historical visitation data also provides context, surfacing brand preferences and affinities based on users’ real-world movements. For example, if a segment of your user base often frequents trendy bars, and it’s currently 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, your app might suggest a nearby venue for a night cap.

Never repeat. Never ping the user about the same info in the same place twice. Unless something has changed, one ping about a deal or a recommendation is enough. For example, if you’ve already notified a user about a deal at a specific coffee shop, don’t message them with the same message during their next visit unless there’s something truly new to mention.

Push It to the Next Level

Remember, for your push notification to be effective, it must be timely, personable, and actionable. The secret to better push is to use context clues to increase message relevance. Enter Foursquare and our Pilgrim SDK. Integrate Pilgrim to deliver contextual notifications at the right time and place. In fact, many of our partners, such as AccuWeatherTripadvisor and TouchTunes use Pilgrim to deliver personalized app experiences for their users.

Want to learn more about how Foursquare’s Pilgrim SDK can open up opportunities within your own app? Visit our website or email us at

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