The main role of microorganisms in the cycling of the bulk dissolved organic carbon pool in the ocean is well established. Nevertheless, it remains unclear if particular bacteria preferentially utilize specific carbon compounds and whether such compounds have the potential to shape bacterial community composition. Enrichment experiments in the Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea and the North Sea (Skagerrak) showed that different low-molecular-weight organic compounds, with a proven importance for the growth of marine bacteria (e.g. amino acids, glucose, dimethylsulphoniopropionate, acetate or pyruvate), in most cases differentially stimulated bacterial growth. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis ‘fingerprints’ and 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed that some bacterial phylotypes that became abundant were highly specific to enrichment with specific carbon compounds (e.g. Acinetobacter sp. B1-A3 with acetate or Psychromonas sp. B3-U1 with glucose). In contrast, other phylotypes increased in relative abundance in response to enrichment with several, or all, of the investigated carbon compounds (e.g. Neptuniibacter sp. M2-A4 with acetate, pyruvate and dimethylsulphoniopropionate, and Thalassobacter sp. M3-A3 with pyruvate and amino acids). Furthermore, different carbon compounds triggered the development of unique combinations of dominant phylotypes in several of the experiments. These results suggest that bacteria differ substantially in their abilities to utilize specific carbon compounds, with some bacteria being specialists and others having a more generalist strategy. Thus, changes in the supply or composition of the dissolved organic carbon pool can act as selective forces structuring bacterioplankton communities.