User Onboarding: Lessons From Clippy to Reddit

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“Despite popular belief, user onboarding does not begin and end with the first experience. There are three stages of user onboarding” – CXL

In their blog, CXL lists that onboarding goes beyond the first touch between the user and a product and continues on throughout the duration of their interaction. Commonly, user onboarding strategies will need to be re-deployed for any new product update or feature. This is not a revolutionary idea. The purpose of onboarding is to allow for easy product adoption. Therefore, it makes sense that anytime your user or product evolves, that onboarding is redeployed.

This is just one of the thousands of concepts that are foundational to a successful onboarding experience. We’re going to be taking a look at some of the best and iconic onboarding experiences. In this article we’ll discuss:

Three Main User Onboarding Types

Upwork upbaords with benefits based onboarding

Onboarding generally forms three main arcs:

Functional onboarding focuses on how the user will use your app, and its functions. Emphasis can be on how to interact with the UI and perform certain functions. This will be helpful for an app with a slightly more complex user experience, then a simple swiping app, like Tinder. This would also be useful for apps that already have a clearly defined value proposition, such as Facebook. Being so well-known Facebook might not need/want to focus on how to use their app. 

Benefits based onboarding focuses on the value that the user will obtain from your app. Such an onboarding is advised for businesses that are primarily monetized via their apps and are not cross-device. Additionally, if your app’s monetisation method relies on a subscription or premium model, this could also be advised. Another good instance where the benefits-based app onboarding would be useful, is when there is a hurdle to obtaining the app’s main value. In the image above, upwork onboards new app and website users by alerting them to a potential barrier (e.g. “it can often take more than 5 proposals to win your first client”). This may potentially increase the retention rate, and lessening the churn rate, by alerting their user to a hurdle and promoting the value of their app. 

Progression based onboarding, is probably the most common onboarding method for mobile games. This onboarding method focuses on giving small bites of onboarding experiences based on the user’s progression in the app. In mobile games, this is commonly deployed as new game functions, items, and levels are unlocked through in-game progression. This onboarding method is advised for apps with complicated or diverse functionality and in-app features.

Dear Clippy, Thank God Onboarding Has Come a Long Way, Since You Were Invented!

Microsoft_Clippy user onboarding examples

Things we learn from Clippy: Take a hint! Listen to your users, if they aren’t diggin’ it, then stop forcing your helpful tutorial, onboarding method or tips upon them. 

Ok, little secret, when scrolling through research on onboarding strategies and stumbling upon Clippy, an instant smile spread across my face. Clippy was horribly annoying and confusingly unhelpful (even though that was his one job!). However, somehow, this little nuisance makes me smile. It reminds me of an older era, where things were not so flashy, streamlined, and user friendly. When things were sometimes, just a little bit … well, shit. 

If we contrast this to today’s onboarding, it will easily make any app appear to have the best onboarding experience known to man. However, actually, it is hard to find a truly remarkable example of excellent onboarding, as the modern standard are very high. Even bootstrapped or startup apps often have a suburb onboarding experience for their users. 

So, how can an app separate their app’s onboarding experience from their equally great competitor’s counterpart? We’re going to delve into some excellent onboarding experiences, to help propel you above your competitors.

Great Onboarding Examples

LinkedIn - Priming the User

onboarding linkedin great app user onboarding example
Source: UXcam

What we learned from LinkedIn’s Onboarding: LinkedIn blends benefits-based onboarding with features-based onboarding, introducing users to both the functionality and benefits of LinkedIn in a simple way.

This would be more of a function based onboarding, that allows the user to get familiar with the UI and the app. This encourages product adoption. However, the benefits onboarding is still interwoven in this app onboarding experience. Users are directed to select what app function they are interested in. They are promoted to choose from three main app experience options: “Find a job”, “Build my professional network” and “Stay up to date with my industry”. This helps LinkedIn prepare the user’s experience, tailored to their needs, as well as reinforcing the app’s value proposition.

Slack - Benefits Onboarding Method

Onboarding example from Slack

What we learned from Slack’s Onboarding: make it easy for your users by giving them multiple ways to achieve your app’s goals. 

Here, slack is clearly using the benefits onboarding method. They’re not focusing on the actual value of the app, rather than focusing on navigating the app. They emphasis simplicity, as an example they simply state: “Getting started is easy” with calm, yet happy imagery to supports this. Additionally, they offer an alternative sign-in method, with the prompt “want to skip the typing?”. This identifies with a potential user pain point and pre-emptively attempts to eliminate this before it results in churn. 

Kahve Dunyasi - Embracing the New

7 App Retention Strategies From Development to User Engagement

What we learned from Kahve Dunyasi’s onboarding: whilst it is suggested to ease your users in with familiar concepts, it equally as effective to grab their attention with something fresh. Here, Kahve Dunyasi uses in-app stories, as a replacement of the traditional app splash screen to grab user’s attention. 

The Turkish coffee chain (akin to Starbucks), cleverly onboards users with in-app stories, provided by us, Storyly! This allows people to revisit the onboarding experience anytime they like, within the app’s home screen. Using stories is a refreshing take on the traditional onboarding splash screens that disappear once viewed. Additionally, the story functionality, that allows for interactive content, two-way content is not only familiar but fresh. 

Reddit - Simplifying the Complex

Onboarding example from Reddit

What we learn from Reddit’s onboarding: if your app could potentially be overwhelming for new users, try to distill your value proposition into 1-2 key benefits with simplistic accompanying imagery. 

Reddit is another example of benefits-based onboarding. Here they seek to simplify their app, which is essentially a complex web of social interactions. They distill their core-value into a few simple sentences with simple and clean accompanying images. Reddit states that users can “Explore over 100,000 communities” and “billions of conversations”. To condense their immense and diverse value proposition into an overarching core value is a smart move. Why? Reddit could easily overwhelm new users, with the sheer volume of conversations to tap into. Like Slack, Reddit has preemptively eliminated a potential user barrier. 

Final Thoughts About User Onboarding for Apps

The examples provided above are nothing extraordinary. Because, that is the standard today. When I was a young girl, there was an admin shelf in our house, which contained all of the essential paperwork. There was a folder on that shelf that was reserved for product manuals, instructions booklets, warranties, and so forth. Those days are gone. Now, products don’t come with paper instruction manuals, instead, they show you themselves how to use them. Soon our fridges, Tickle-Me-Elmos, and cars will probably do the same (who knows, they’ll probably arrive out of the box talking to their new owner and instruct them how to use them). 

In my short lifetime, I have seen the reliance of papers, to the archaic first boxy computers of the early 2000s, to the first-ever smartphone. Now, we have come from paper onboarding (also known as manuals and instruction books) to app and online onboarding. In today’s climate, most users would eye-roll over a poorly functioning button, clunky UX during onboarding. That’s how far we have come – now excellent onboarding is expected. 

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