A Viral Star's Advice

Kyle MacDonal

Between the summers of 2005 and 2006, Kyle MacDonald bartered his way from one red paperclip all the way to a house. He made all of his trades with people he met online, driving around North America to make the deal. His story led to a best-selling book and speaking engagements around the world. For Kyle, the internet is his creative tool. He still does a few speaking engagements a year, but he’s never stopped posting deals online. One niche he’s cornered is his dad’s artwork after he took up a community painting course. If I were to describe Kyle’s expertise, it would be using the internet to actually make real connections with people.

How do you get people to trust you online?

Kyle MacDonald:  By being totally transparent, as real as possible. I try not to edit anything out. I never really take anything down online. My phone number is anywhere, anyone can call me at any time. Very few do, which is nice, but I purposefully try not to build things up or edit to a point where it's sensationalized. I mean “Red Paperclip to House” is totally sensationalized, but that was largely out of my control. It's more of a branding point now. I just say it and then if people are interested I'll tell them the full story.

But, anything that I post or communicate online is 100 percent the exact same way I would do it if I was standing, having a beer with that person. I never try to differentiate my online persona from myself. My intention has been about making a large number of connections based on an idea.

Well I mean it's your personal theory, but you are working with brands now. Do you think that holds true for brands?

Kyle MacDonald: I think brands have the exact same challenge as people do. You can read a quote by a politician or a business leader or musician and say “Oh man, I hate that person. I totally don't agree with that. This is wrong.” Brands are the same thing. There will always be people that hate and love every brand. The vast majority of people are in the middle who say, “Yeah, they did some stupid things but they made up for it.”

a viral star s advice 2 img

a viral star s advice 2 img

And I think that's the challenge for brands, you constantly want to be doing positive or good things with PR and marketing and all that sh*t. But someone's always going to have their Samsung blow up in their pocket, then Samsung's the devil. These things are always going to pop up.

There's no such thing as a perfect goal. I think being more reasonable and accepting the fact that you might f*ck up once in awhile is better than trying to achieve a perfect image.

So in other words you're saying shit's going to happen, deal with it as it comes and keep being you?

Kyle MacDonald: I think that's all we're trying to do. Just share things with other people, share ideas, share opinions, share news, share reality. And as we move forward, it will be harder and harder to trick people and start rumours and fake things and dupe people because there will be more breadcrumbs and there will be more contextual information showing the truth.

So what I’m getting is that online is an amazing tool that's going to continue to grow and continue to become a better tool, but the importance of going offline to get full context and see things in-person is critical.

Kyle MacDonald: I think they're going to blend. I think the idea of on or offline has really become a thing where you’re able to access online at any time. And I think that the challenge is to resist the temptation to just boil in a stew of information in internet-centric stuff, and really maintain face-to-face storytelling and human nuances. I think that the reason why that's so important is because people are almost always civil to each other face-to-face, but as soon as you go onto a device and you're just typing text into a tweet storm or whatever, it's very easy to be barbaric in your tone. You can say anything because you're just pushing pixels and digital information around. I think that the core of human experience is touch, interaction, and face-to-face communication, and anything we can do to increase that is how we can actually improve upon our technological gains. If we choose to. But if we lose that we'll eventually just become machines.

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