Get: Get Together

Monday 19th August 2019

“Communities feel magical but they don’t form by magic”

– Kai Elmer Sotto


It’s all about the people. Community and inter-personal connection are vital to all of us. Think you can rock it on your own? Maslow didn’t think so and classed relationships and friends as an essential psychological need in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. In his hierarchy of needs, as soon as one’s physiological and safety needs are met (survival), social belonging is the next thing that a human being requires and desires. Communities are also incredibly valuable to a great number of organisations and businesses, so how does one go about nurturing one?


people and company community workshop

Three people who know ALL about community development are Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh and Kai Elmer Sotto, of community strategy coaching company People & Company. Bailey was early at Instagram as a community manager, Kevin operationalised CreativeMornings, and Kai helped pioneer Facebook’s growth discipline and launch Instagram’s business internationally. You see? They know their onions. People & Company have been Hailer’s secret weapon when it comes to helping our clients to work and grow with their customers, through their community research blog and excellent podcast, and soon through their community handbook Get Together which is released on August 20th. Kai and Mat met and know each other through both of their involvement with Surf Simply and a shared enthusiasm for analogue photography, which is how we’ve been lucky enough to corner Kai, Bailey and Kevin (be e-mail – they’re based in Brooklyn and Singapore) to ask them some questions about Get Together. Three incredible community researchers and strategists, three questions. Go!

Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh and Kai Elmer Sotto, of community strategy coaching company People & Company

Physical get-togethers: are they experiencing a resurgence after 15 years of digital community growth (as an antidote to the potential loneliness of digital interactions), are they a result of online community growth facilitating connections, or have they never really gone away?

You’ll notice that in our book, Get Together, we do not dig into why humans need community, analyze the current trend of declining communities, or dissect how organized communities achieve political change. There are wiser experts on those topics. Instead, we want to help readers with the practical decisions about what their community needs next.

In the book, we provide stories, prompts, and principles for each of the three stages of cultivating a passionate group of people.

We do talk about communities who combine physical and digital get-togethers. We cite examples of communities that gather first and foremost through what we call digital watering holes. We spent time with Lola Omolola, who started a private Facebook group, Female in Nigeria (FIN), to explore struggles and victories with other Nigerian women. She invited friends, who in turn invited their friends, to join the group—women located mostly in Nigeria, but also throughout the diaspora. Today, FIN (which now stands for “Female IN” to reflect a broader group of women) has 1.7 million members. And, FIN is holding its first physical get-together in Nigeria this month.

Lola Omolola of FIN group, photographed by Kai Elmer Sotto of People and Company

Have you had any surprises through the course of researching the book or interviewing community leaders for your podcast over the last three years, or have there been any revelations you wish you’d known 10 years ago?

Our first surprise, which is really not that big of a surprise, is the universal fear of having no one show up to your gathering.

Every single community leader we met expressed the fear of “What if no one shows up?”.

And, this fear doesn’t go away for them. Aria McManus, the founder & leader of Downtown Girls Basketball, shared that this concern just doesn’t go away despite running her basketball get together every Tuesday night. She still has this nervous energy every time she shows up to the basketball court and she continues to be thrilled when someone does show up.

Aria McManus of downtown girls basketball, photographed by kai elmer sotto of people and company for get together book

What we say in the book about combatting this fear is to just get started. You want to first “Pinpoint Your People” — Find the people who give a ton about your why. Focus on the people who already brings the energy–those who already engage, contribute or attend. Don’t try to conjure motivation out of thin air. Start with keen participants. These people will show up for you.

The next surprise is how ambiguously people use the term community. Communities feel magical, but it doesn’t form by magic. We wish someone defined clearly and simply what community is to us 10 years ago. And, more importantly, we wish someone wrote a handbook on the order of operations to building a community. It’s the ambiguity that motivated us to write Get Together.

We’ve found that there are three stages to creating a community. It’s just like building a fire. (1) Spark the Flame – getting together, (2) Stoke the Fire – sticking together, and (3) Passing the Torch – growing together.

Our aspiration is to give people a simple guidebook. One that takes away the ambiguity of community building. And, offer them a framework–an order of operations–they can follow at every stage of their community building journey.

bailey richardson, community researcher at people and company, planning get together book

Building a community is presumably harder for brands and businesses because of the “ulterior motive” hurdle. If you could only give one top tip to a business looking to develop their customer base into a community of advocates and super fans, what would that tip be?

Our one tip for brands & businesses:

get together book illustration more of this less of this

The secret to getting people together is this: You must build a community with your people, not for them.

Amateurs try to manage a community, but great leaders create more leaders. Nearly every challenge of building a community can be met by asking yourself, “How do I achieve this by working with my people, not doing it for them?” In other words, approach community building as progressive acts of collaboration — doing more with others every step of the way.

With others, we extend our capacity. You can do more together than you ever could alone. Plus, you’ll have more fun in the process.

The through-line of our impending book is this simple concept, “build with.”

get together book

Huge thanks to Kai, Bailey and Kevin for taking the time to answer these questions in the midst of a hectic promotional schedule for their book release.

Get Together is available for pre-order now, and will be released on August 20th. Get it!