Don’t overdo your social app onboarding

Apps centered around social sharing and user-generated content rely on users getting excited to consume, share and create in the world of the app. That’s a pretty big ask, and a good onboarding process is the first step to enticing and empowering users to make your app a part of their social lives. Onboarding is pretty tricky business, though. How much is too much? Too little?

When I’m not blogging for Sixbees, I work on social networking site for people in the IT industry. In my first couple of weeks at this gig, I was asked to help design a native app experience of our already very robust online community. One of the biggest challenges was rethinking how we introduce ourselves to a new user. During my research, I’ve discovered a few excellent ways to guide users into your social app and increase the chances they return.

4 things to consider for more engaged new users

Keep it short (as possible).

Onboarding is a fine balance between showing your prospective user what’s great about your app and not getting in their way. If your flow to get into the app feels too long, chances are a prospective new user will decide to “finish that later.”

Translation: never.

You also have to consider they may not be trying your app for the first time in an ideal condition. As designers, we may picture our user thoughtfully moving through our meticulously crafted flow.

She looks pretty focused.

In reality, they might be at a loud bar with friends, one of whom has just told them they should totally download this new app. All of a sudden, that multi-step interactive onboarding flow isn’t so great. Bye bye, new user!

Non-ideal situations make it hard to hold someone’s attention.

Instead, be brutal in editing your first-time user experience. Ask the bare minimum, make the features you highlight understandable at a glance, and allow them to skip things they could easily fill out later.

Feedly onboarding flow

Feedly asks very little of new users from the beginning and automates a lot of the set up by asking you to connect via Facebook or Google. It then automatically drops in subscriptions you already have and shows you the path to add more.

Pinterest onboarding

Pinterest’s onboarding may not be as short as Feedly, but it does allow you to skip most steps and shows just how many steps there are. The super large text input sections and lack of other distractions also help to make each field easy to complete, even when not 100% focused on the task at hand.

Tell them why.

Anything you require or encourage someone to input should have a clear reason. “Do x so we can give you y.” If you ask to connect to Facebook, make it clear that you will fill their contacts with existing friends. If you need them to select some interests, tell them that doing so will make their experience better and unique.

Going back to our first rule, consider steps you could allow someone to skip, and prompt them for that info later when it makes sense.

Instagram onboarding

Instagram provides reasons for each thing asked. For example, if you try to blow through without following any other accounts, the app tells you that following others creates your feed. Once in the app, a couple of other onboarding tasks are posed as notifications to be completed later. 👍

Show your range, but let them make their own space.

In the onboarding process, it’s good to present a range of interesting things to discover, and then allow your user to make a space for themselves by choosing topics/people/genres to follow from the start. It’s up to you to determine how many are required to experience the app, but it’s best to keep the minimum number to … a minimum.

Going back to our first two tips, make this task as quick as possible and explain why the app experience will be better if they choose a few interests first.

Tumblr, Flipboard, and Pinterest all have versions of a “choose your interest” step in their onboarding flows.

A lot of popular apps have this step in some form, but they present them differently and have different requirements. It’s best to make this step fun and painless because the result will build your user’s first in-app experience.

Get crazy and consider skipping it altogether.

While coming up with your onboarding flow, try to ask yourself and your team, “Can we skip all this?” At least as an experiment, consider ways you can bypass much of the onboarding process for a time and allow new users to get in and learn by doing.

I admit this is tricky, and may not work for all experiences. It’s important to be sure that you aren’t dumping someone in the desert by letting them into your app world without any direction. Try creating a stripped down user experience for those that just want to do a little exploring first, with gentle prompts to sign up when they try to do things that require a full user account.

This is the logged out user experience for Reddit. You can explore some content first before being led to “sign up”.

Reddit serves up content from a bunch of popular subreddits to users who skip their signup and onboarding process. It allows someone to get a feel for how your app works, and what kind of people exist in the community you’ve built, without giving any information first. As soon as a user tries to upvote or follow new subreddits, however, they get a prompt to join in by signing up.

Onboarding is a hot topic in UX design because it is so complex and hard to get right. The concept at the heart of these tips is that introducing someone to your app should be like building a friendship. Don’t be greedy when you ask for someone’s time and give them a reason to hang out with you again.


Originally posted on Sixbees blog. Let me know what you think, and check us out for more posts on design and being bad ass ladies in the industry.