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Audience targeting in modern SharePoint

ClearBox Consulting > Communications  > Audience targeting in modern SharePoint
Hundreds of arrows in wooden board.

Audience targeting in modern SharePoint

Audience targeting in modern SharePoint is a way to tailor news to different audiences on the same page 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’.

Screenshot of SharePoint New Articles
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 in the North” story if they click on ‘See all’ or search for it.

Setting up audience targeting in SharePoint

Getting going with audience targeting does involve 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 that 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

This is just a switch to flick in the site pages library for your news. 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!

Screenshot of SharePoint news article page detail panel.
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 this is just a switch to toggle to ‘On’.

Screenshot of SharePoint news article audience targeting filter.
Enable targeting in the sidebar.

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 customisation. 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.

This article was originally published on CMSWire.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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