Why You Should Care About SharePoint Modern Audiences

Support for using modern audiences in SharePoint within News and Pages has started rolling out to Office 356 tenants, and I’m excited to see this finally happening. Modern has provided very attractive UI experiences that are great and now they can get personal. I’ve spent a little time with it in my own developer tenant. I thought I would share some thoughts with you. 

Microsoft is pushing News and Pages hard in Modern sites and this is a good thing. The user experience for Communications departments who need to use these features is much better than the old publishing portal days. However, the success and growth of News and Page usage are very likely going to create another problem. This is that we may be trying to dish out too much information to our users in very broad strokes. I tiptoed around this some in my blog SharePoint News – Filtering Pitfalls. Filtering News is a great first step, but it still relies on everyone looking a list of News or Pages and seeing the exact same thing. The author of the page does get to decide what slices of news you see, but often that isn’t enough to reduce the noise.

Audiences are another important consideration in tailoring News and Pages to your users and reducing the burden of users having to weed through too much information to get to what matters to them. By using an audience, you can make your Intranet personal, showing targeted news to a person based on who they are. Whether it’s what office they work in, what their job title is, or what division they belong to you get to decide what they see.

Great so how do I get started?

Turning on and using a feature is dead simple, just as it was in Classic SharePoint. The real work is in the planning and preparation. First, I’ll show you the simple stuff and then we can dive into why planning and preparation are so crucial.

How to Turn on the Feature of Modern Audiences in SharePoint within News and Pages

Step 1: Turn on Audiences for your Site Pages library

Go to your list settings and click on Audience targeting settings. If you see a description different than below be careful it probably means the new version of Audience Targeting has not been enabled in your tenant.

Step 2: Ensure your web part is audience aware

Put your page in edit mode and edit the web part properties for your News or Highlighted Content web part. All you must do is toggle the “Enable audience targeting” toggle to On.

Step 3: Begin targeting News and Pages you author to the audiences you choose

When creating or editing a Site Page or News Article, open the Page Details panel and find the Audience property. You can add one or more Microsoft 365 or AD Groups to target your page to them in “audience aware web parts.”

Well, that was easy, what’s the catch?

If you want to really make use of audiences well within your organization, you are going to want to ensure that you have a solid process in place for ensuring that your AD or Microsoft 365 groups are accurate, self-describing, and easily understood. End users are going to begin counting on these groups, their membership, and the processes that keep them accurate. We all know that employees leave, new employees are added, people move between departments and it creates for an ever-changing landscape.

Option 1: Active Directory Groups

I would rely on AD groups most often as these tend to be more controlled. AD groups often are or can be automated in a way that employee changes are automated in groups. Things such as on-boarding, off-boarding, and job changes.

Option 2: Microsoft 365 Groups

I would typically only recommend using existing Microsoft 365 groups if they are well known and well-controlled. Consider that your MS Teams will have Microsoft 365 groups that you may not want to use. They aren’t centrally managed typically and might be too volatile within a corporate communication strategy that includes the entire organization.

Option 3: Dynamic Azure AD Groups

For those of you that have Azure AD Premium P1 or P2 licensing, Dynamic Groups in Azure AD may be the preferred approach. However, this option relies heavily on the accuracy of your users and their attributes in Azure AD. As a result, it may require planning and work to ensure that information is accurate.

  • With this approach you can define a group whose user membership is dynamic, based on rules you define.
  • You can create a “Columbus Georgia Employee” Group where everyone who has a City of “Columbus” is dynamically added.
  • You can create an “Executives” Group where everyone has a Job Title in a list of titles you decide.
  • You can create a “New Employees” Group where members are only in there for the first 6 months after their hire date.

The options for what groups you can define are so flexible, they are only limited by the attributes available and trusted on your users. These dynamic groups remind me a lot of how audiences used to work in SharePoint in my on-premise days. They were compiled and populated based on User Profile Properties. This is certainly the most flexible and dynamic option for enabling groups that are personal. This is because they are derived from attributes about your users.

I’m looking forward to audiences rolling out to all tenants this year, first as a part of Pages and News, and then eventually as part of navigation.

If you would like to read any more on the subject, here is an article from Microsoft about the subject: New audience targeting tool propels move to modern SharePoint experience inside Microsoft

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