Member Spotlight: Joel Zaslofsky talks managing a community with no Community Manager

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(Sarah Hawk) #1

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Member Spotlight but I couldn’t resist this topic. We spend a lot of time stressing how important having a committed (usually full time) Community Manager is if you want your community to thrive (and meet its strategic objectives).

How then does @JoelZaslofsky run his Puttytribe community without one?

I asked him.


HAWK: I’ve learned that you operate your Puttytribe without a community manager. Was that a conscious decision?

Joel: It was a decision born from two realities. The first is that we've never had enough revenue to afford a legit community manager (we're a private, paid membership community). The second is that everyone on our team is a multipotentialite – someone with a diversity of interests, skills, and creative outlets – meaning we collectively know how to do a ton and will probably learn on the fly when we encounter something new we need to do.

I certainly would enjoy having a traditional community manager – and we may someday with the growth we're experiencing – but it's kind of fun to see how well we can do without one.


H: How does it work? How do you divide the labour?

J: Let me break down our team quick so you have some context:

  • Connections and Operations Guy: That's me. I run the day-to-day operations and have ultimate responsibility for everything in the Puttytribe. My duties are as expansive as the puttypeep in our community and include managing our internal team, overseeing the integration and management of our systems, creating awesome spreadsheets, writing elaborate procedure documents, hosting a whole bunch of huddles (typically a 2-10 person, one hour video conference gathering around a general topic), and much more.
  • Creative Director: That's Emilie, the founder of the community 5+ years ago. She's fairly active in our forums, hosts a couple of events every month, and co-creates the ongoing strategy with me.
  • Community Facilitator & Word Maestro: That's Natasha, glorious writer of words. She writes our weekly newsletter, does various member outreach, and consults on anything that needs to be put into words.
  • Events Director: That's Erika, who runs our member-led workshops, occasional special events, and is the point person for all things events.
  • Community Helper: That's Neil, who helps with outreach, leading huddles, and some minor "as needed" technical tasks.

Now, you might be thinking, "Well, who does ABC out of you five?" The answer is either "It depends," "None of us," or "A member in our community." More on that in a moment.


H: Do you feel there are things that are missing or could be done better if you had a dedicated staff member?

J: Absolutely! Tons of things.

For example, we don't have a formal process to query community health metrics and turn them into actionable reports. It also takes us far too long to do anything technical in or between the integration of our WordPress, WooCommerce, Discourse, and rocket.chat platforms (an open source Slack clone). We have a complicated, but well-cobbled together platform that's easy to maintain and tricky to build out.

One thing that helps a bunch is having a truly member-led community. Our new website was almost entirely co-created by our members, most of our huddles are led by members, and new community challenges like how to connect our puttypeep offline are championed by someone who's not on the official Puttytribe team.


H: How do you address tasks like executing strategy and monthly reporting?

J: The founder and I primarily create the ongoing strategy and it's my job to implement it with our team. I do monthly reporting on certain key stats like number of paying members or reasons why members canceled. Discourse's out-of-the-box admin stats and Google Analytics take care of the rest of our needs.


H: When, if ever, will you bring on a part-time or full-time community manager?

J: After following the FeverBee blog and community for years and reading other community management resources, I know that a skilled community manager will cost us big-time. The right one at the right time is definitely worth it, but I don't think we'll have the revenue to invest in one for 12-24 months.

There's a good chance we'll never have a formal community manager. And a large part of that is our almost defacto "community manager by committee" benefit by having such a diverse internal team of multipotentialites and a community itself that can – and crucially – wants to get their fingerprints on what we're building together.

You'd be amazed what a bottom-up community of global multipotentialites can dream up and accomplish together!