"Community" is one of those great, big, giant words that can mean many different things. Its exact meaning in a context can shift depending on who you talk to, what they're into, and how they see the world. It's a word that holds so much promise because it's such a large container for the needs and aspirations we all have for connecting with others in this world. Yet… yet… precisely because of that, it can lead to some confusion, especially when we talk about community in a business context. Here are some thoughts about definitions of community that might help you understand what we're talking about when we use the term.
For the Civic-Minded
For some, it may mean that set of activities you do out of a sense of civic responsibility and altruism, when you "give back" to your community by donating food or clothing, or volunteering your time at a retirement home, for example. Companies can put a lot of energy and resources into encouraging employee giving and volunteer efforts–Microsoft itself has numerous programs, initiatives, and support mechanisms for employees, including a robust matching fund for donated money or time.
Customer Outreach and Support
For others, community translates into what you do online and off to connect with customers and users of your products and technologies. The emphasis here is on creating connections between the business and its actual and prospective customer bases through the outreach of its employees, whether in groups (like the System Center marketing team) or as individuals (like the "peer-to-peer over a beer" connections that can happen, for example, at industry trade shows). This definition of community is very much about broad-reach marketing and customer support: how Microsoft engages with the various communities of interest or practice that evolve and revolve around our offerings. Often, this kind of community is defined almost exclusively in terms of (official) discussion and comment venues, like corporate blogs (as an example, Eileen Brown has a good and popular one that frequently touches on System Center-related topics) and support forums which you find associated with many corporate presences on the Web.
Associations "Out There"
And for still others, community is defined by and expressed in various online channels, arising organically out of the shared interests of users who run the gamut from "lurkers" to forum regulars to bloggers to MVPs to community site owners (and others besides). It's worth noting, too, that this brand of community has taken on special significance with the arrival of new social networking technologies that promise to make it far easier and more convenient to form the connections among the different constituencies and individuals out there, all busy collaborating, chatting, and blogging away on the Web.
One example of a community site is MyITForum, which has for several years now served as a central spot on the Web for fostering discussions and connections about management products and technologies.
Another would be Deployment Forum (a new one by my reckoning), which centers on the Windows deployment practices of IT professionals. Here's a blurb from their site:
Deployment Forum is the member-driven deployment resource for IT professionals. Our members use automated techniques to deploy Microsoft Windows in businesses containing from a few hundred seats to many thousands of seats. In the Deployment Forum community, IT professionals share their expertise with other IT professionals. They share high-level ideas like best practices and methodologies. They also share specific solutions, including scripts, templates, and so on.
Check these sites out when you get a chance, and bear in mind that the beauty of this kind of community is in its diverse, organic (as in: not controlled by Microsoft) distribution on the Web.
My point here? In addition to discussing definitions of community and pointing you to some useful community resources, I guess it's this, finally: we on the System Center team are investing in all these areas–some, I suppose, by dint of our job descriptions, and many others of us by virtue of our individual drive to connect with others and build greater meaning and a greater sense of purpose into our (work) lives. Hmmm. Maybe I should just speak for myself here. In any event, look for us in the community and don't hesitate to let us know what you have to say, wherever that may be.