How important is “Community” to you and your business?

“Community” is one of those interesting words that gets used in many different places and many different ways. When you look at your business, how important is “Community” to you and your business? Also, how do you define “Community?”

For instance, there is the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC). This is a “community” setup by Microsoft for Partners focusing on SMB around the world. Also, many of you belong to SMB, Partner, or SBS Groups in your areas. Those too are types of “Communities,” would you agree? Or how about the online “Communities” I see so many of you in where you go for information, support, or to converse with your peers? Then there are the social networking types of “Communities” as well.

When you look at the world of business, most every business exists to make money in some way (even non-profits “make” money, they just spend what the make and break even, ideally). The concept of “Community” does not often have that direct correlation to revenue generation though, yet it shows up in so many different business models and environments and there are so many differing opinions on it.

So what I would be very interested in hearing from you is, how do you define “Community,” and how important has “Community” been to your business so far (in any regard, whether growth, startup, revenue, people, etc.) and how important do you see “Community” being to your business today and in the future? For those of you who know me, I am sure you know my take on this; however, this is about your input and thoughts.

Thank you and have a wonderful day,

Eric Ligman
Global Partner Experience Lead
Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group
This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights

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Comments (20)

  1. Doug Geary says:

    I define community as a "collection of like minded individuals for a common purpose".

    I live in a community. For the most part, the other people who live in my community do so for the same reasons; to have a safe place to raise their families and store their stuff.

    In business, I "belong" to several communities. Primarily, these are vendor communities and peer communities. I belong to these communities to be a part of the conversations that evolve within these communities. It helps me to stay informed and grow.

    My most important business communities are; Yahoo technical groups, vendor groups (in particular, the ones for my PSA and RMM tools), various user groups, LinkedIn and HTG. I do not consider SBSC to be a community. I think of it more as an association.

    Communities are very important for building relationships, having visibility to trends, as a sounding board for ideas, and as a resource for solving problems. I don’t think our company would survive without being part of communities.

  2. The "C" in SBSC was well established before Microsoft came along and, really, there’s not much "C" in what Microsoft supports.  Microsoft are removing any and all funding from User Groups, for one, which isn’t very "Community".  A lot of the SBS User Groups around the world arew changing their name and their focus into SMB IT Pro groups, focussing not so much on SBS but on solutions appropriate for their SMB clients from vendors *including* Microsoft.

    Aside from that, the "Community" varies from area to area.  In Brisbane we’ve got a pretty good community that extends to both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast as well as out to Toowoomba.  There’s some little pockets outside these main areas, too, which are truly a part of our community because they put in the effort.  And believe me, that effort is appreciated.  I know some other areas are struggling to have any real community at all, which is unfortunate.

    Now, as for our business, well I’ve been involved in the community since I began in IT.  I’ve been involved in User Groups, IT Pro Groups and so on since the mid 1980s.  A great deal of the information I’ve learned has been from the community and I feed that back into the community.

    So, a fair amount of time that I could focus directly on our business is instead directed into the community via mailing lists, phone calls with other partners and so on.  Do I look for specific return on this?  No.  But I know that we do benefit from this in a number of ways, mainly intangible.  The best thing that I can see is that we have a more knowlegable and more capable group of IT professionals in and around the Brisbane area – the SMB IT Pro Brisbane group members – because of the community spirit that we encourage here.

    Microsoft obviously saw my community focus by asking me if I’d be the SBSC PAL for Australia for FY09.  I just wish I’d had more contact from Microsoft and with the SBSC Partners to be able to realise more of my goals.  Unfortunately, Microsoft won’t let me know who the SBSCs are in the region I represent, so I can only represent those few who have contacted me about issues – the rest remain voiceless.  If I represent a community, I’d like to truly be able to represent the entire community.

  3. Lessons learned in working with blogging communities:

    1. A community is a network. Networks cannot be controlled but they can be given an identity. People diecide to join a community or network once they see and understand the structure or pattern otherwise everything looks random.

    2. People stick with established ties they trust. Therefore quality of relationships vs quantity of relationshps becomes a foundation for a thriving collection of people.

    3. Recognition promotes participation.

  4. My participation in small business and Microsoft-based online communities has grown dramatically over the last couple of years, and has resulted in marked, even dramatic changed in our business model and practices.

    My major participation is with Yahoo groups and private corporate fora (primarily ConnectWise), nearly always using an email interface.  I would frankly prefer true NNTP newsgroups, but the current implementations are no up to the standard they should be.  I also attend some local user group meetings, and last year attended two major conferences — SMB Summit and the Conectwise conference.  

    I have virtually zero interest in “Web 2.0″ environments like Facebook and Twitter.  I’m looking in high signal-to-noise ratio and thoughtful, relevant comment, not social chatter.

    Communities provide wisdom, perspective, experience and new ideas.  I find all of those almost critically important to helping make business decisions in this highly dynamic business environment.


  5. Bob Muir says:

    I consider the “community” to be my local “user group, (PSSBS) and the various lists and blogs that I follow.

    The community allows me to keep current with events and emerging technologies without having to investigate everything in-depth on my own.

    The community gives me an emergency backup in case I become unavailable to a client or in case I get in over my head.

    Could I survive without the community?  Most likely.  Could I thrive nearly as well has I have succeeded?  Very unlikely.

  6. Tony Albans says:

    I endorse Hilton’s comments, and add the following:-

    Microsoft are a large organisation, and do offer an opportunity for us to engage, but MS seems to have forgotten the base tennant of community, the freedom to make choice as to engaging or not, and so many are now looking at the NOT option.

    For me the former Brisbane SBS group, now SMB IT Pro, is a shared intellect.  It is something that I want to be part of, both in terms of receiving info and assistance, and in that I want to, and do, contribute!

    I actually gain benefit, in, and from, contributing to the community.  I am free to be critical, and others are free to critisize me.  Indeed, I learn from constructive criticism.  When I stop learning, from my peers, it is time to bail out.

    I think that many others gain benefit from belonging, irespective of receiving assistance, or contributing.  So to me the definition of community is all about belonging.  And, Belonging is all about wanting to participate, combined with a feeling of freedom to participate.


  7. Rosewood says:

    Community is my business. I would be nowhere without the small business community in my area.

    Online communities help me every single day. I would have been toast if it were not for the SBS Newsgroup and the community there many times over in the past few years.

    Community is the most important thing to me and my business.

  8. Eric Louie says:

    Hi Eric and the rest of the "community"

    Before I started typing, I looked up the word community.  There were 12 different definitions there.  All of them apply to what we consider to be vital to our business and our lives.  

    There are different communities that I am part of, too.  One of them is the professional community – my peers in the SMB IT in San Diego and around the world.  The values of that community are sharing of technical knowledge, processes, business ideas, referrals, friendship, professional relationships (I have some of them as resources for problems that I can’t solve, and vice-versa), some social interaction, and camaraderie/commiseration (we understand each other and talk each others’ language).  The mere fact that the Internet has revolutionalized my ability to obtain knowledge and solutions makes that community a vital, irreplaceable value.

    I have my local community, which is where I do business.  In that community, the foremost value is an ability to make a living by helping those customers and clients to solve problems that they otherwise would not be able to solve.  That community is a place where I serve.  Where I am able to be the glue between different businesses, letting each know what the others are doing and fostering business arrangements between them.  Where I get the recognition as the source for IT knowledge and expertise, and give the best possible service that I can provide them.

    I have a number of other communities that provide me with other things that I need in my life – social groups, purpose-centered groups, athletic groups.  All of them serve me by providing me with emotional, mental, or physical support and allowing me to give the same to other members of those groups, or to the group as a whole.

    It’s a really good deal that we have – we can get whatever we need if we treat our communities with the respect, dignity, and honor that they deserve.

  9. Robert Crane says:

    The SBS Community is a group of people who share a common interest. They are from all different walks of life and locations in their careers. In theory the community is an environment where the more experienced can teach/mentor the inexperienced and retain their respect. It is an environment where new members are welcomed with open arms and without question. It is an environment were all experienced and new strive to improve their knowledge and experience.

    A true community will go beyond the common interest and provide a network for a full range of needs for those that are involved in the desire that it entices new members.

    In short it should involve all members going above and beyond for others withing the community without the expectation of any return. It is an environment where each members should contribute what they can without judgement. As I said "in theory".

    Can community revolve around a mature commercial product these days? It certainly doesn’t appear that way to me any more.



  10. DUIT Dale says:

    The community of colleagues who are Microsoft Partners and consultants are vital to my business in that through the exchange of knowledge and ideas I and the business are far stronger.  Whether meeting locally, sharing correspondence, interacting through forums, blogs, chats, Live Meetings, webinars, seminars, conferences, Groove, …etc there is a lot of community interactivity right now.

    With the content flood of change in technology it is overwhelming trying to keep up.  Then on top of that trying to discern which business trend de jour is worthwhile to implement and even the granular details would be prohibitively time consuming and costly.  Keeping track of sales and licensing is another potential time sink that the sage advice of peers can help to pare down to more reasonable efforts.  Community affords me and my business a vignette of a larger and more complete picture of technical knowledge and consequently ensures a significantly higher level of ROI & service for my clientèle.

  11. mesan says:

    Extremely!  I have found the SBS community to be the best and most helpful of any product we use at our small (13 people) office.  The newsgroup is great, it’s nice knowing that if I get in a bind I can call an SBSC and know that they know SBS.

    Thanks for all your work improving and maturing the community!

  12. Eric – great topic – I have just written an article on this topic, in the context of "multi-community" with a cross-cultural twist to my blog at My main thesis is identifying sponsors that have cross party line and work across the aisle: EMC, xTuple, etc.

    Anyways – very timely conversation – thanks


    Harry Brelsford

    CEO, SMB Nation

  13. Community to me is where like minded individuals rely on each other to deal with changes in our profession, share and gain knowledge, protect our livelihoods and clients from the inevitable results of greed and ineptness of vendors whom we are forced to rely on daily.

    Most businesses fail the first year; more the first five.  I’ve beaten the odds because of this community. I was in a massive career change and needed to know reality of the business quickly.  I came up to speed in months and am now viewed as a guru by my clients. I have shared my knowledge in turn to help others. Interestingly I have sealed deals when I mention I am a part of worldwide organizations that deal specifically with technical issues in the small business community.  Little did I know these professionals are leveraging their professional communities the same way and immediately hired me,

    We will see large changes in this economy over the next 5 years.  The community will be pivotal in keeping my business afloat. It was key in my startup, it was key in becoming profitable, it will be key as I grow, and will be key in implementing new revenue opportunities. It seems I can’t do business without it.

  14. Amy Babinchak says:

    I don’t know why community doesn’t show up in books as a tool for running a more sucessful business, it really should. Community gives a consulting business a much broader perspective. That perspective advantage translates into better solutions for the client. When their parter in plugged in to community the benefits go directly to the client and then return to the consultant in the form of additional work and additional referrals.

    In the world of IT consulting I would define being a member of the community as participating in the local user group,  national and international business and technical groups and actively participating in key vendor beta, forums or what ever resources for participation they make available.

    Community is key to the continued sucess of my business and critial to my clients. I don’t know that my clients necessarily knew that someone "plugged in" is what they were looking for when they found me. If there was a way to promote that idea to prospective clients I would love to do so.

  15. stryqx says:

    Community is a group of like minded people. The size and range varies according to the area of interest, the communication channels and the perceived need for the community.

    Community prevails in times of hardship or when there is a void of resources or communication.

    Community is all about social interaction – a need to be valued, recognised and associated with a clique.

    In relation to the C in SBSC – Microsoft didn’t create this community but merely provided a label for a collection of partners to identify themselves with.

  16. Dear mr. Ligman,

    I always experienced you as a serious businessman and you should be ashamed for asking this question.

    You know all the answers and you also know that SBSC is the worst branding in the last Microsoft decade.

    I am sorry to say,

    Leen Kleijwegt


    The Netherlands

  17. mssmallbiz says:

    @ Leen – Thank you for your feedback.  I assure you that my asking the question is not an effort to see answers I already know, and is sincere in its intent.  I will readily admit that I don’t know all of the answers, which is honestly why I ask the questions.  Yes, I have my thoughts on what some of the answers will be but I believe if you look through the responses so far, you will find a pretty large collection of differing definitions of community in terms of scope, focus, relevance, etc.  

    I am a firm believer in asking for input directly from the Partner community on various topics vs. having Microsoft just assume they know and go from there.  I am not sure how long you have followed the Blog or the User Group but if it has been for any significant amount of time, I believe you will see that I do try to reach out to the Partners for their real insights.  I also believe that many of the Partners who know me will attest to this fact.

    I would be very interested in understanding more fully the information and feedback behind your statement regarding SBSC.  It is apparent that you have some strong feelings about it and I would like to understand more about where the program has and has not worked for you and led you to the opinion you currently have about it today.

    Thank you again for taking the time to read the Blog and post your comment.