What is a SharePoint Audience ?
A SharePoint Audience is dynamically populated group of Users that are defined based on a set of ‘rules’ that define who is a member of that Audience. Audiences are only available in SharePoint Standard and above or MOSS.
Once an Audience is configured it can then be manually compiled, or scheduled to compile – usually overnight. The process of compiling the audience causes SharePoint to evaluate all of the rules against the user data store (usually Active Directory aka. AD). Any users that match the rules will be added to the audience. Rules can vary greatly but are based on either a user profile property (such as Department, Name, Role, etc), or based on criteria such as “Give me all the users who report to Frank Roberts!”.
The main role of the Audience is to allow content targeting in SharePoint sites. Content Targeting allows web parts, list items to show (or hide) if the logged-on user is (or isn’t) a member of the audience. For developers, SharePoint Audiences are also incredibly powerful as you can use them for many bespoke applications. This is what we achieved with DocRead to target must read / required (or recommended) documents to users.
One point to note – Audiences are NOT a way of controlling security. Just because a user can’t see a web part (as they aren’t in the audience), this doesn’t mean they can’t “get to” the data. Treat Audiences as merely a personalisation feature and not a way to control access to documents or items in a list.