Alma: A New Online Community for Young Jewish Women

Today on the blog, we have an interview with Molly Tolsky, a former editor for Kveller, who created her own online community called Alma (a Hebrew word meaning “a woman of childbearing age who has not had kids”). Alma is a place for young Jewish women, or, as they like to say, “ladies with chutzpah“, to come together, share stories, laughs, and tears as they navigate the tumultuous space after college and into the world of “real” adulthood.


What inspired you to create Alma?

I had been working as editor of Kveller, a Jewish parenting site run by 70 Faces Media, for several years. I had started there as an intern when I was in graduate school before the site was even launched, and stayed on throughout the years because I really loved it. Working with such talented writers and helping them share their personal stories – and then watching a robust, warm online community grow out of that – was really special. Only problem: I’m not a parent myself, so I wasn’t connecting to the topics at hand on a personal level (I’ll be honest, I got really sick of reading about breastfeeding). I thought if I could do what we had done at Kveller, connect like-minded women in the same life stage—but, in this case, Jewish women out of college, but not quite “settled down”—I could create a community that I, myself, would want to be a part of. So, the idea for Alma was born.

How did you go about building and creating the site?

My experience with getting in on the ground floor with Kveller was a huge help. There, I learned about the importance of identifying your target audience as specifically as you can, establishing an honest, authentic tone for the site that people will be able to relate to, and putting your best effort into finding talented writers who can produce high-quality content. As far as physically creating the site, I learned about the importance of outsourcing—i.e. finding a damn good design firm that can make your pretty dreams come true.

What has been the most challenging aspect of running Alma?

Doing it all! Don’t get me wrong—I have a lot of support from the staff of 70 Faces Media, from an audience development team to badass video editors to a development staff that helps fundraise, so we can actually exist and afford the electricity—but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty daily operations of the site, right now, that’s all on me. So, I’m recruiting writers and curating content, editing the pieces, loading them onto the site, finding the right artwork, and doing all the social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, oh my!), while trying to also, you know, have a life. I like to complain about this but in truth I’m a control freak and like to have my hands on every little thing. But I’ll need some help soon.

How do you come up with the content?

The coolest part about running a site for people like me is that I can use myself and all my friends as the test audience. So, largely, I’m just thinking about what we care about and would like to read about. I also did a lot of research and ran some focus groups in the planning stage that helped us figure out the main topics of interest for this demographic—career, dating, and social justice high among them. I also like to let my writers lead. I rarely assign topics, but rather encourage them to write about what’s currently on their mind—what’s keeping them up at night, what do they want to think more about, etc. That way the content feels authentic and immediate, not forced.

Alma GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

What are the best strategies for building up an audience?

For this demographic, at least, social media is where it’s at. It’s where we spend our time, and it’s easiest to find people where they already are (whoa, that sounds deep). I haven’t found any magic solutions to do this quickly—you just have to put in the effort every day to post, interact with your audience, follow other similar people/publications, and use a lot of hashtags.

What are your three favorite online or mobile tools that help you run Alma?

Instagram is my favorite social media platform right now. It’s fun to think about how to represent this demographic visually—the types of pictures and colors we respond to, the gifs and memes that make us laugh. I feel like I’ve done my job when I see people tagging their friends in the comments, or writing things like “this is so me.”

Buffer is a great tool for managing multiple social media platforms (though not, sadly, Instagram). That’s what I use to schedule Facebook and Twitter posts, and it also offers tracking tools so you can see where your visitors are coming from.

Google Analytics is a Godsend for really seeing your audience and evaluating what’s working or not. Every month, we look at reports using GA to see what the top hits were, where the traffic was coming from (i.e. via social media or referral links), and who the audience is (age, sex, location… Google knows all). Especially in this early stage, keeping an eye on what works and doesn’t is crucial to figuring out where we’ll go next.

Bonus: Giphy. All the gifs.

What are some tips and advice you would give to people trying to create an online community like this?

Be authentic. People are smart—they don’t like being talked down to or feeling like someone’s trying to sell them on something, so use your real voice and be up front about what you’re trying to do. Also, listen to your audience—if they’re saying they want more or less of something, try it!

If you had to choose a one-liner piece of advice for aspiring Jewish entrepreneurs, what would it be?

Oh man, I’m so tempted to say “Just Jew it”, but I’ll resist. How about: It’s good to have fear—that means you’re doing something worth doing—but don’t let it stop you.

Add a question of your own that we did not ask and give the answer to it.

Q: Why do you hate seltzer so much, Molly?
A: I don’t know, it’s just bad!


Header illustration via Flickr/hyoin min