Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Effective Delivery: Reaching the Right Audience in SharePoint Modern

Annie Johnson, Modern Workplace Developer
Strategy / Platforms

Today, more than ever, corporate communications professionals recognize the importance of engaging employees through personalized experiences to deliver a compelling employer brand. Marketers have long understood that successful personalization is a major content performance driver that can be measured across an array of critical metrics. Increasingly sophisticated CX design sets the bar and shapes the lens through which employees will also engage with content delivered through corporate communications channels such as their Modern Workplace.

At Rightpoint, we routinely help our clients craft personalized experiences in SharePoint modern, including through the recently refreshed audience targeting capabilities. It can be difficult to find reliable information about implementing a targeting strategy in the modern SharePoint experience. We aim to demystify the process while providing insights and content strategy expertise to leverage these targeting capabilities to great effect. 

Humble Beginnings

SharePoint audience targeting has come a long way over the past few years. It is now available on a multitude of web parts beyond news, extending to events, quick links, navigation, highlighted content, search results, and even the SharePoint app bar and Viva Connections dashboard experience. Some recent changes to the way audiences are created and targeted to have not been directly communicated by Microsoft but have a major impact on planning and implementing a content targeting strategy. Microsoft has quietly retired audiences as they’ve been classically understood. Audiences that were formerly created through the user profile administration service are no longer compatible with SharePoint modern experiences. 

Those fond of the technical details will be interested to know that the lack of classic audience compatibility is due to a change in the data type of the field added to Site Pages libraries when audience targeting is enabled, from the ‘Audience Targeting’ data type to the ‘People and Groups’ data type. The People and Groups data type will not resolve audiences created through the user profile administration center. Instead, all targeting in the modern experience now relies on the use of M365 groups and security groups. Classic distribution lists are not supported. However, if your distribution list fits certain criteria such as being managed in the cloud, unnested and not dynamic then it is eligible for upgrade to a M365 group through the Exchange Admin center. We have engaged clients desiring a content targeting approach that falls outside these parameters, such as being based on membership in distribution lists managed on premises, when the value of the solution merits taking a custom approach. Audience targeting is powerful out of the box, but there are times when a little customization helps make it everything that an organization needs.

A New Approach

With the shift from classic compiled audiences to M365 and security groups come some significant changes to defining audiences themselves. The compiled audiences of days past were capable of being built on rule sets, including membership in distribution lists and security groups, and rules matching against properties available on the user profile such as department, location, and direct reports. While compiled audiences had their shortcomings, notably only compiling once weekly thereby being up to one week stale, this robustness and flexibility in defining audiences was a great convenience for organizations with complex targeting requirements. 

In response to the new approach we have explored, tested, and successfully implemented the use of dynamic M365 groups to achieve the same robustness made possible with the former compiled model. Now when dynamic M365 groups are leveraged audience membership is capable of being synchronized in near real-time, making it an even more attractive option. While official communications from Microsoft state various things about support for dynamic groups as target audiences, sources from Microsoft have confirmed with us directly that they are currently planning to announce support for these dynamic groups once all tenants have been onboarded to the new dynamic group service, planned to be complete by the end of 2021.

Employee Experience Delivers Real Value

Implementing audience targeting capabilities in your Modern Workplace is a wonderful place to start when considering how you may deliver more meaningful experiences for your employees. Other types of personalization are worthy of exploration as well, such as allowing users to subscribe to content that matches their interests and surfacing highly relevant alerts and notices in a status feed or within the new Viva dashboard adaptive card experience. When leaders invest in this sort of engagement, we build real, dynamic, sustaining relationships with our most valued resources.