Comprehensive Guide to In-App Messaging in 2024

13 min read
Jenna B.
Jenna B.
Published June 10, 2021 Updated March 27, 2024
In-App Messaging Examples

Mobile app adoption is at an all-time high. New app downloads reached 255 billion in 2023 — up 11% from the year prior. This translates to more than 485,000 apps downloaded per minute in 2022.

But despite such impressive app downloads and usage metrics, the majority of apps struggle with retention rate --- a key performance indicator tracking the percentage of users who are still using an app a certain number of days after install. Across most app categories (such as gaming, entertainment, education, dating, etc.), user retention rates one month after app installation hover around 5.5%, with more dropoff each subsequent month. This matters because retention rates are a core way to gauge whether an app offers value, solves challenges, or engages users.

So how can app owners improve poor app metrics? Enter, in-app messaging.

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about in-app messaging, including:

  • How Does In-App Messaging Work?

  • Types of In-App Messaging

  • The Benefits of In-App Messaging

  • In-App Messaging Examples & Use Cases

  • In-App Messaging Best Practices

  • In-App Messaging Services

  • In-App Messaging Tutorials

  • In-App Messaging FAQs

What Is In-App Messaging?

In-app messaging can be defined as targeted, contextual messages that drive action while users are actively using an application on their mobile or desktop device.

App owners and marketers leverage in-app messaging to prompt users to make purchases, refer friends, announce new features, streamline onboarding, celebrate key milestones, and ultimately drive deeper app engagement.

How Does In-App Messaging Work?

Both in-app messaging and push notifications are tools that app owners, marketers, and developers use to inform, motivate, or prompt actions from app users. While related, in-app messages and push notifications are different modes of communicating with app users. Each method has specific best practices to deliver measurable and optimal customer engagement results.

In-app messages are pop-up alerts designed to engage users while they are actively using an app. For example, if a gaming app user achieves a new point level, an in-app message containing congratulatory language (think: "Great Job!") may encourage users to continue playing and reach the next milestone. Likewise, an edtech app that sends a celebratory in-app message when students turn in assignments (think: "You're Crushing It!") could help incentivize students to complete their homework.

Push notifications are brief, sometimes opt-in messages that alert users when they do not have an app open on their mobile device. Push notifications can re-engage inactive app users by sending short, urgent messages to customers. For instance, if a fintech app detects suspicious account activity, a push notification can alert users to review their banking transactions. Push notifications are also used to promote deals, share new product releases, and much more.

Types of In-App Messaging

Exploring various in-app messaging types offers effective methods to engage and inform users.

Let's look at these key messaging strategies that can help you connect with your audience.

Chats and Posts

Diving straight into the heart of user interaction, chats and posts stand as pillars of community building within apps. They offer a direct line for users to engage, share experiences, and foster connections.

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Chats and posts keep the conversation flowing and amplify user engagement by making each interaction more meaningful.


Banners command attention without commandeering the entire screen. They're the perfect blend of subtlety and impact, delivering timely messages, offers, or reminders.

Banners are designed to guide users towards desired actions or highlight new features without disrupting the user journey. They're a staple in effective in-app communication.

Notifications and Alerts

Notifications and alerts cut through the noise to deliver critical information. These messages keep users informed about updates, urgent messages, or personalized alerts, ensuring they're always in the loop.

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Their ability to deliver concise, relevant information right to the user's fingertips makes them invaluable for maintaining engagement and prompt action.


Gathering information or gauging user sentiment is a breeze with in-app surveys. These tools are ingeniously designed to solicit feedback without pulling users out of their digital experience.

Through carefully crafted questions, surveys offer invaluable insights directly from the user base. They're beneficial in refining app features, user experience, and overall satisfaction.


Navigating an app's features can sometimes feel like exploring uncharted territory. Guides serve as knowledge sources, offering step-by-step instructions or helpful tips to enhance the user's journey.

From interactive tutorials to pop-up tips, guides ensure users can fully leverage the app's functionality, reducing frustration and elevating satisfaction.

Personalized Recommendations 

Tailoring the user experience with personalized recommendations enables you to connect with your users on a more personal level. It also demonstrates an understanding of user preferences and significantly boosts engagement and loyalty.

Onboarding Messages

Onboarding messages introduce users to the app's features and functionalities. This initial "handshake" is crucial in setting the tone for the user experience.

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They offer a blend of informative and welcoming messages that guide new users through their first interactions with the app, ensuring a smooth and inviting entry point.

Status Updates

Status updates keep users informed about their activities, transactions, or any changes within the app. Whether it's confirming an action, providing progress updates, or alerting to changes, these messages ensure users feel connected and up-to-date with their interactions.

This fosters a sense of reliability and transparency, which are vital in in-app communication.

The Benefits of In-App Messaging

There are many positives to leveraging in-app messaging as part of your product and marketing strategy.

These core benefits include.

1. Alleviate Customer Frustrations

When done right, in-app messages can alleviate app user frustrations by providing timely, valuable, and relevant information. Shopping or marketplace apps can alert customers that certain items are discounted or back in stock; fitness apps can provide motivational messages if a user is lagging in their goal targets.

This can reduce the likelihood of users abandoning the app due to unresolved issues or unanswered queries, thereby maintaining a positive user experience.

2. Improve User Experiences

Unlike many push notifications, users do not have to opt-in to receive in-app messages. In-app messages are automatically displayed when a user opens an app on their mobile or desktop device and they are built into the app experience. This can be particularly useful since only 51.4% of iOS users opt-in to receive push notifications.

The built-in nature of in-app messaging ensures that users receive important information and updates seamlessly, contributing to a smoother, more integrated user journey.

3. Captivate Audiences

In-app messages target captive audiences that are already using an app, making users more likely to interact with the message content. The direct engagement method effectively captures user attention and fosters deeper interaction with the app.

It encourages users to explore new features, access content, or take advantage of special offers they might not have otherwise noticed.

4. Integrate Easily

In-app messaging functionality doesn't have to take loads of engineering resources and time to add. Thanks to well-built APIs and SDKs, in-app messaging can be integrated into your app easily, allowing you to start engaging your app users in mere days.

Such ease of integration is a significant advantage for app developers. It enables them to rapidly deploy new features and communications strategies without the need for extensive development work.

5. Enhance Engagement

Notably, in-app messages are stickier than push notifications. Research suggests that in-app messaging receives eight times the response rates of push notifications. Plus, in-app messages can be highly personalized to send the right message to the right person at the right time, which optimizes their impact.

The ability to tailor messages based on user behavior, preferences, and past interactions ensures that each message is relevant and engaging. This custom approach enhances user experience and strengthens the relationship between the user and the app.

In-App Messaging Examples and Use Cases

Here, we highlight several top in-app messaging use cases to take your app to the next level.

Onboarding Users

Nothing tanks user retention faster than a complicated, convoluted onboarding process. Whether it be a long series of questions to build a profile or a hard-to-understand UI, app users grow frustrated if they can't immediately start using an app.

In-app messages can guide first-time users toward essential features and ensure they take necessary actions to get the most out of your app, such as linking a credit card or allowing location services. We like this carousel of onboarding messages from Videoleap, as it helps demystify the complex functionality of the app without overwhelming the user.

Adding to this, interactive tutorials can significantly reduce the learning curve for complex apps, making users feel more comfortable and confident from the get-go.

Celebrate Milestones

App creators know that gamification and rewards are key to influencing loyal behavior. In-app messages are a top way to alert users they reached a key milestone, such as creating their profile, or a special badge that commemorates in-app activities, such as taking language learning quizzes every week for a month.

For example, Puppr, an app that helps dog owners train their pet, gives new users a badge just for signing up for an account, which conjures positive feelings of accomplishment.

Similarly, fitness apps can celebrate milestones like hitting a personal best in a workout, further motivating users to keep pushing their limits.

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Content for Conversions

Whether it be pushing a recurring campaign, such as a series of videos around a relevant topic, or sending users a perfectly timed article that answers frequently asked questions, in-app messages that display powerful, attention-grabbing content can inspire conversions and a deeper brand connection. For example, the Nike app featured interviews with athlete moms in the weeks leading up to Mother's Day. Other daily Nike content includes training tips and style advice.

This approach of delivering relevant and timely content keeps users engaged and reinforces the value proposition of the app.

Drive In-App Purchases

In-app messages displaying special deals, discounts, premium features, or coupons are effective at increasing in-app purchases. In-app messages can also strategically drive sales with new product announcements, recent price drops, and limited time offers to your entire user base.

This example from Spotify informs users of a premium in-app feature, and can help convert free users to paid subscribers.

Leveraging user behavior and preferences for personalized offers can significantly enhance the effectiveness of these messages, making the purchase proposition even more enticing.

Surveys and Referrals

In-app messages that prompt users to rate their app experience are an ideal way to populate 5-star reviews. This simple in-app message from Emoji Blitz is an effective way to ask engaged users for app-store reviews.

Encouraging people to share their positive experiences on social media can also amplify the app's visibility and attract new users.

Showcase New Functionality

When you push competitive new functionality, how will your existing customers learn about it? A targeted in-app message can drive new-feature adoption by notifying users of just-launched features.

We love this example from Strava highlighting a new Group Challenges feature because it's a concise message with a clear call to action.

Incorporating brief video demos within these messages can further clarify the benefits and usage of the new features, ensuring users understand and are excited to try them out.

In-App Messaging Best Practices

In-app messaging is a powerful tool to spark user actions and loyalty, and marketers and app owners should follow these tried-and-true best practices to get the most out of their messaging strategy.

1. Enhance the Experience

In-app messages should aim to enhance the user experience rather than distract from your app's unique value proposition. The goal is to delight, inform, inspire, and motivate users to take action. This can be achieved through a combination of in-app messaging design, content, and timing.

Incorporating rich media like images or videos can significantly elevate the appeal of messages, making them more engaging and memorable. Visual elements should align with the app's design language to ensure a cohesive user experience.

2. Timing is Key

Timing is key when creating in-app messages. For example, if your goal is to inspire users to review your app or take a survey, don't schedule your in-app message while they are in the middle of an important activity such as uploading a photo or editing their profile, as they will likely close the review prompt so they can finish the task. Instead, try scheduling messages when users first enter the app to increase survey completion rates.

Leveraging user activity data to understand their behavior patterns can also help in optimizing the timing of messages. Doing so ensures they're received at a moment when users are most receptive.

3. Keep it Simple

While in-app messages have more character bandwidth than push notifications (studies show that optimal push notifications have fewer than 40 characters), keep in-app messages brief. If your in-app message requires more text, break up the message content via an interactive carousel feature that allows users to click through prompts at their own pace, or skip them entirely to use other app features immediately.

Simplicity extends to the call-to-action (CTA) as well. Make sure your CTAs are clear, compelling, and easy to execute. They should encourage users to take the desired action without any confusion.

4. A/B Testing and Segmenting

Successful in-app messages are customizable. Marketers and app owners should be able to test the type of messages that best resonate with your segmented audiences. A/B testing in-app message content, design, and timing can help cater alerts to drive conversions.

Segmentation can be based on user behavior, demographic information, or even user preferences to ensure each message feels personally tailored to the recipient. This personalized approach increases the effectiveness of in-app messaging and enhances the user's overall perception of the app.

Top 5 In-App Messaging Services

Integrating a third-party solution is the fastest, most reliable way to add in-app messaging functionality to your product. It's a good idea to seek a messaging service that makes it easy for your company's non-technical team members to author, customize, and design alerts for app users. Rich messaging analytics can help tailor your messaging strategies for the best results.

Here are several sterling in-app messaging service options.

1. Braze

Braze offers in-app and in-browser messaging tools designed to capture customer attention through interactive messages. These tools are crafted to deliver personalized, on-brand experiences directly within apps or on websites.

The following are some of the main features of Braze:

  • Personalization through dynamic content

  • Support for multiple message formats, including full-screen, modal, and slide-up

  • Dark Mode compatibility for user-centric design

Braze also enables a comprehensive view of visitor interactions and preferences across various channels in real-time and historically. Additionally, the platform supports anonymous visitor engagement through intuitive, in-browser survey templates.

2. CleverTap

CleverTap's in-app messages aim to deepen customer relationships with content-rich messages tailored to various user lifecycle stages. These messages can include rich media like images, GIFs, video, or audio and are automatically adjusted for any device size.

The main features of CleverTap include the following:

  • Personalized messaging

  • Localization support

  • Drag-and-drop editor for easy message creation

Pre-built templates are also available for quick setup.

3. Courier

Courier provides an all-in-one notification platform designed for developers, featuring an API that integrates with various communication channels. It supports over 50 providers through a single API, offering a centralized system for managing user data, preferences, and templates.

Top features include the following:

  • Multi-channel notification delivery

  • Template management with drag-and-drop designs

  • Centralized analytics for insight into user experiences across channels

The platform also improves the process of creating and scaling notification systems.

4. Firebase

Firebase is a development platform made by Google. It provides a variety of solutions for addressing common app development challenges.

The following are the primary features of Firebase:

  • Real-time databases for instant data sync across users and devices

  • User authentication support across multiple platforms

  • Analytics for insights into app usage and user engagement

5. OneSignal

OneSignal offers a comprehensive suite of communication tools designed to engage and retain customers across multiple platforms.

Its main features are the following:

  • Multi-channel messaging for unified communication

  • Advanced segmentation for targeted messaging

  • Real-time analytics for insights on message performance

These capabilities allow OneSignal to empower businesses to send personalized messages and localize content for diverse audiences.

In-App Messaging Tutorials

Adding in-app messaging to your app doesn't have to take loads of time and engineering resources. Integrating an in-app messaging API versus building messaging functionality in-house ensures that your in-app communications are reliable, performance-driven, and infinitely scalable.

The below tutorials provide step-by-step instructions to add Stream's messaging API to your app using easy-to-use SDKs:

In-App Messaging FAQs 

Still have questions about in-app messaging? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

How Do You Make a Messaging App?

You can make a messaging app by first outlining its primary function and the specific group of users you intend to serve. This step ensures the application meets the needs of your audience, whether for professional communication, social interaction, or niche communities.

The next step is to choose an appropriate technology stack as well as the development tools you need to build your app. This decision will impact your app's performance and future growth potential. You then develop the core functionalities of your messaging app by implementing a user registration system that balances ease of use with stringent security measures. This ensures all users can effortlessly sign up while keeping their privacy protected.

Finally, it's crucial to incorporate strong data security measures to safeguard user information and communications from unauthorized access.

How Do You Make a Messaging App in JavaScript?

You can make a messaging app in JavaScript by initiating a server environment with Node.js and leveraging Socket.IO for dynamic, real-time communication between users. You then craft the app's front end using HTML and CSS for layout and styling, while modern JavaScript frameworks like React or Vue.js enhance the interface's interactivity and responsiveness.

You can then apply key features such as user authentication to verify identities, use MongoDB to manage data storage and implement security measures to ensure that messages are exchanged over secure channels.

How Do You Build a Messaging App for Android?

You can build a messaging app for Android by starting with a user-friendly design in Android Studio, employing XML for layout customization. Incorporating Stream, Firebase, or a similar platform takes care of the backend infrastructure and user authentication while facilitating a real-time database for message exchanges.

Implementing push notifications is essential to inform users of new messages or events.

Embrace In-App Messaging for Real Results

In-app messaging is an effective way to improve your app's key metrics, such as daily, weekly, and monthly active users (MAU), and retention rate. By default, in-app messages target users when they are actively interacting with your app's content, making them a powerful tool for inspiring actions that matter to your app's bottom line and user experience.

Whether it be learning about a new product line or creating a profile, ultimately, in-app messages help users get the most out of your app. Follow basic in-app messaging best practices to ensure that your messaging strategy has maximum impact.

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