Why Online Community is a Hot Topic

A recent trend is the increasing attention by small businesses on building and growing communities online. The word “community” is hot.

Take a look at this Google Trends graph comparing the terms “online community” (in red) and “online content” (in blue):

Online community versus online content, in Google Trends

Look at the lower third of the chart, which shows the number of news references to both terms. Notice how online content and online community were running neck and neck for several years. Then in 2007 “online community” broke away. It started appearing substantially more often.

While the Google Trends graph is not specific to small businesses, anecdotally I’ve noticed a similar effect among small businesses online.

In one sense you could call the early years of this century the “Age of Content.” Small businesses first discovered email newsletters and then ezine article sites. Starting about 4 or 5 years ago, we small businesses discovered blogs. The ability to cheaply, easily and instantly publish content was a huge lure. Do-it-yourself online publishing was well within the capabilities and budgets of many small businesses.  Hence, the focus for many was on building out “content.”

But 3 changes are taking place causing small businesses to begin to focus more on building community, rather than simply  pushing out content:

(1) More content competition — As the Web gets more content, and so much of it is free, it becomes harder to stand out by just writing great articles. You have to involve visitors to a website more deeply if you want to differentiate your business and gain a lasting audience. Content alone no longer does it. People want to feel involved — we need an emotional connection.

(2) Search engine algorithm changes — The search engines are a constantly shifting target. Many entrepreneurs and small businesses are finding it risky to rely on search engines exclusively as the main source of Web traffic. Better to have a community of regular, loyal visitors.  Then if the search engines change their algorithms, you can still sleep at night. Your Web traffic won’t go completely down the tubes.

(3) Online networking is proven — The technology to allow people to network and develop relationships online is simply better and more available today. The concept is proven, too.  The Web has become decidedly social. Small business owners and entrepreneurs have learned that you can develop relationships online and those relationships do lead to real business. It’s not just a theoretical nice idea or an excuse to justify wasting time online. Money is changing hands as a result of online relationships.

My latest Inc Technology article looks at these reasons behind the renewed focus on community. Check out: From Blogs to Online Communities.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

13 Reactions
  1. Recently new to blogging, I will be keeping this in mind. I definitely can see how people want to release the hold Google has on them and their sites. My only question is: What are some ways to build community?

  2. Bonjour Anita,

    Thanks for this great post and this stats

    The nice thing with you it’s you put your word in action :

    you have a blog
    + you have guest blogger
    + you are in some great forum / community
    + you are present in some key events and workshop
    +++ …

    Anita, how you do all this, do you have a clone 😉

    just kidding

    Always enjoy reading your blog from my sunny Marseille in France

    Best regards


  3. Anita Campbell

    Bonjour Claude,

    I wish I had a clone!

    The thing is, there’s so much more I want to do with this site. Sometimes it feels like it is moving in slow motion — that things never move fast enough because I have to fit site improvements and enhancements in with other activities. Oh well,…

    Good to hear from you as always.


  4. Another brilliant article on social network community by Anita Campbell. You are addicting me to Small Business Trends. Thanks for such brevity and clarity. I can tell you are a Twitter pro by how you write.

  5. First off, I would like to thank Anita for writing a great article on businesses and the new trend of networking. Very real stuff that is happening right now.

    That is exactly why we have created WOWzzy.com

    Long story short, it’s the ULTIMATE business networking system for businesses to connect to other businesses, and consumers alike.

    It’s also a place where algorhythm is based on credibility, not credit.

    I could ramble on, but just go see for yourself

    If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at Jon@WOWzzy.com, and I would be more than happy to answer them.

  6. Great article Anita.

    As small businesses are often solo businesses it makes sense to embrace this community trend to connect and learn from others’ experiences throughout the world.

  7. Hi Anita, great post. Great communities these days are moving beyond destination sites – they require knowing where your audience is and going to where they are, whether that is Facebook, small business blogs, Twitter, or YouTube – and providing cross-site widgets that follow your users. There is a lot of exciting work being done in social design for community sites by using gaming principles for engagement (see Amy Jo Kim & Christina Wodtke). Professionally, I have used sites like Twitter and Facebook to make content syndication deals, network, brainstorm ideas, and look for people to hire. At the Online Community Business Forum 2008 in Santa Fe, someone raised the question: “Can you even talk about community these days as a separate thing? Isn’t the web one big community now?”

  8. I have found linkedin to be a very good source of connections and leads for my website broker business.
    Good relevant content and good linking practices will however help sustain positioning in the search engines as it is the search engines best interest to provide relevant results. All methods of connecting to your market should be employed in any case.

  9. People want to make connections, it’s only human nature. Keeping them engaged in communication is key. Take this site as an example, with all of your contests, book reviews and links; it’s hard not to participate with the community you have built.

  10. Danita Blackwood

    There is a great online community and place for entrepreneurs to connect as part of SBTV.com’s business center. It is one way to tell the world and other business owners about your business.

    It is an online community or network of small business owners, the self-employed and aspiring entrepreneurs.

    There is another way to get the word out about your enterprise: make a movie.

    Yes, I am serious; a short film on how your business works for your community could be your ticket to fame, fortune and the nation’s capital! One of SBTV.com’s partner organizations, the National Federation of Independent Business or NFIB, is holding a new contest. The NFIB competition is a video contest on how “Small Business Works for America” and it could pay off in $5, 000, a trip to Washington, and great publicity for your enterprise.

    Video artists simply need to create a 30-second clip that answers the question “Why does small business work for America?” and submit the video to NFIB. After an initial review, entries will be posted on the NFIB YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/NFIBContest where viewers can rate them. A panel of judges will use those ratings to select semifinalists and an overall winner, who will receive a $5,000 cash award and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., including a stay at the Grand Hyatt Hotel for the 2008 National Small Business Summit June 8 – 11.

    There is still plenty of time to get the camera out and create your video clip. Entries will be accepted up to May 15. Details for participating in the “Small Business Works for America” contest are at

  11. Martin Lindeskog

    My view is that the optimal way is to combine an online community with a physical meeting place. That is what I have tried to create together with my partners. The goal is to establish a new Third Place. Click on my name for more thoughts. I am very interested in this topic.

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog
    Blue Chip Café, Business Center & Community
    “Biz & Buzz in a Cup.”