What is the difference between a SharePoint Group and a SharePoint Audience

by Helen Jones | Dec 11, 2012

What is a SharePoint Group ?

A SharePoint group can be created by a user from within SharePoint and requires that user to manually add or remove users. A SharePoint group can also contain many Active Directory groups (which themselves can contain child AD groups).

SharePoint groups are often used to make securing "things" in SharePoint easier. For example, if you want to secure 10 documents so that 300 users can see them, it's easier to put the 300 users into a group and give the group permissions to the 10 documents. This way new users can be added to the group, without having to worry about the 10 documents. They will immediately gain access by being a member of the group.

Want to know more ?

What is a SharePoint Audience ?

SharePoint Audiences are dynamically created based on a set of rules. If users meet the audience criteria they will automatically become a member of the audience. Audiences can be compiled regularly using a background SharePoint job. Every time the schedule 'kicks off' the Active Directory will be searched for users who meet the criteria and will be included in (or excluded from) the audience.

This means that the audience membership can change over time, however each time the audience is compiled, only users who meet the specified criteria will be included. By using rules or criteria (assuming that your base information is kept up to date) it means that you can be assured that the right users are contained in the audience and that manual maintenance of audience members is not required.

What are the differences ?

  • An Audience can scale to hundreds of thousands of users, a SharePoint group is limited to a few thousand and has scalability problems at the top end.
  • A SharePoint group can be used to secure a site, document library, or document. A SharePoint audience cannot.
  • The membership of a SharePoint group has to be manually managed. The membership of a SharePoint audience is automatically managed based on rules configured by your Central Administrator.
  • A SharePoint audience can only be created in MOSS 2007 or SharePoint Server - Standard / Enterprise 2010. A SharePoint group can be used in all versions of SharePoint including WSS and Foundation.
  • A change in membership to a SharePoint group is immediate. The membership of a SharePoint audience will only change when the next scheduled run happens. (In most large organizations this is usually nightly as it can be quite an intensive process).
  • A SharePoint Central Administrator can create an audience. SharePoint site admins usually are responsible for creating groups. 
  • SharePoint audiences are globally-scoped, meaning they can be used in all site collections and sites. SharePoint groups are scoped up to Site Collection level.
  • Both SharePoint audiences and groups can be used to target web parts and also content in lists. This means that if you are a member of a group or audience, content can be selectively shown to you. This adds some degree of personalisation to SharePoint.
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