x marks the spot on a tree
PHOTO: David Paschke

Audience targeting in modern SharePoint is a way to tailor the news displayed on the same page for different audiences based on their profile. It started rolling out towards the end of 2019 and should now be available to all customers. Here’s how to get the most out of it.

Why Use Audience Targeting

Targeting is a way to make an intranet feel more relevant to each user. It is particularly valuable for news on an intranet homepage where space is precious, and you want the key messages to stand out.

In the example below “Our expansion in the North” is a news story that is mostly of interest to managers, so it only appears to "Leadership Team members."

SharePoint Audience Targeting demonstration
Using targeting, the first story will only be visible to "Leadership Team" members.

You can think of audience targeting as news hiding — it filters out stories that don’t apply to you (in classic SharePoint it was even called “audience filtering” for a time). However, it is not a security feature and any user will see the hidden “Our expansion into the North” story if they click on “See all” or search for it.

Related Article: Personalization Solutions for Your Irrelevant Intranet

Setting Up Audience Targeting in SharePoint

Getting going with audience targeting involves a few discrete steps.

1. Define an audience

Audiences are defined in Office Groups or Azure Active Directory (AD), so the first thing you need is a suitable group defined in Azure AD, and this is usually an IT Admin task.

The benefit of this is it keeps all groups defined in one place, and in many organizations groups will already match mailing lists for well-established audiences. However, Azure AD groups are usually set up with security in mind rather than internal communication. It may be that new groups are needed that don’t have a security role but are only needed from a communications perspective.

If you want to create groups based on rules, for example a “France Finance” group based on Department=Finance and Country=France in the user’s profile, then this is possible. However automatically adding members to groups requires an Azure AD Premium license.

2. Enable audience targeting in the site pages library for your news

This is just a switch to flick. You’ll find this under Site contents > Site Pages > Library Settings > Audience targeting settings.

3. Create a news story with a target audience

When you edit a page with a news story and click "Page details," you will now see "Audience" on the details panel. You can even pick an individual to target if they are that special!

audience details visible in SharePoint
In the "page details" panel you can specify your target audience.

4. Enable targeting on the news web part

The final step is to also tell the news web part to respect the audience setting in each news story. Without it, it will just show all stories from whatever sources you tell it to look at. Again you just need to toggle a switch to "On."

where you can enable audience filters in SharePoint news

Related Article: Why It's Time to Update Your Legacy SharePoint Intranet

Things to Know Before You Start Audience Targeting

Think “aggregate and filter” not “push out what is relevant.” Intranet news in SharePoint starts with an underlying assumption that news lies on the periphery and gets pulled together to increase the odds that it is seen. Many communicators are used to the opposite model, where there is a central pool of news that gets pushed out to relevant sites based on metadata. With work, you can build this in modern SharePoint, but if you want to do this flexibly, it is quicker to look at in-a-box add-ons.

It’s not user customization. Targeting is not personalization — the user cannot say what news they are interested in, and modern SharePoint doesn’t currently support this mode. Targeting is about the news story publisher choosing what they push to a target group.

Users won’t know why they see stories. Unlike, say, online shopping where you can say “why was this recommended?” there is no way for a user to easily see why a certain story is visible to them and not the person next to them.

Targeting is new but also old. Audience targeting has existed in classic SharePoint for many years in publishing sites. It was more powerful and flexible, but also harder to set up. This new feature makes it much more accessible in modern SharePoint.