Thwack, an online community that SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI) designed for IT managers, now has more than 100,000 registered IT professionals. SolarWinds says Thwack, launched in 2003, allows the company to "stay uber-close to its customers." But perhaps there's an opportunity here for managed services providers (MSPs), especially those that have embraced SolarWinds' IT management and monitoring software.

The majority of SolarWinds' customers are corporate IT professionals. But SolarWinds launched a more formalized MSP partner program in November 2011. SolarWinds tends to attract larger MSPs that are looking to manage their own data centers, or MSPs that are seeking to manage mid-size and large customer data centers.

So where can MSPs find and connect with such customers? Perhaps the Thwack online IT community is the answer. A recent Thwack relaunch includes an MVP program that awards badges and points in recognition of "top talkers" who add value in the community through participation and content sharing, SolarWinds claims. That sounds like a prime opportunity for SolarWinds' MSPs to emerge as thought leaders in the Thwack online community.

Just be careful: We've all seen MSPs offer endless streams of advice that ultimately turn into marketing and lead generation programs. Avoid the temptation to make such moves in the Thwack online community. If you're a SolarWinds MSP, share your advice and guidance without a hint of salesmanship -- then let customers seek you out for hands-on help.