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“We are trying to build the Amazon Prime of barbecue and media,” said Shawn Walchef, owner and founder of Cali BBQ Media and Cali Comfort BBQ. While this probably sounds strange at first, Shawn is actually developing his own promotional ecosystem, combining hospitality and marketing to develop an authentic reputation.
Today, it’s crucial for businesses to have an online presence. With two podcasts (Digital Hospitality and Restaurant Influencers), a blog, and a profile on every social media platform you can think of, Shawn is an expert at highlighting his brand and engaging with his audience.
“It’s so much more than food. It’s so much more than hospitality,” Shawn said. “You have to know how to share your story. You’ve got to know how to do it online.”
Whether on TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram, video is the key to unlocking engagement.
“The internet wants raw. Professionally raw. And you have the greatest tool that allows you to do that—the camera app on your smartphone,” Shawn said. “Video is so powerful. The internet wants video. Video can give you so much where you’re not telling the customer, ‘Hey, I sell barbecue.’ I’m taking a 15-second video showing them our Pitmaster Bernice at the old hickory pit putting ribs onto the smoker.”
This powerful, visually engaging content will only be as successful as you are at posting it, however. According to Shawn, he makes these social media videos part of his daily routine to keep viewers engaged.
“The same way that I check email. The same way that I check text messages. Wherever I am is an opportunity for me to give access to the people that follow us online—a sneak peek into the life of being a barbecue restaurant owner. A podcaster. Of me going to Vegas to give a speech to other restaurant owners. Now I’m bringing people into the story. And by bringing people into the story, more people are invested in our brand, and it gives us more opportunity.”
That being said, being authentic online won’t necessarily make everyone a fan of your business. There will always be someone out there who expresses criticism, oftentimes in the form of a review.
“It’s devastating when somebody takes the time to write a 1-star review, attacking all of the things that you believe in,” Shawn said. “And if one person’s saying it, then maybe other people have experienced it and just haven’t taken the time to write it. Now, if multiple people are saying it, operationally, we can look at it and go, ‘Well, maybe we have a problem, and maybe we can investigate that problem.’
“Once we started doing that—once I started responding to every single review right when it was written, whether it was good or bad—it literally transformed how we did business. Does that mean that we didn’t get bad reviews? No, we got a lot of bad reviews. But when we went through the bad reviews, we took that objective data and said, ‘If three people in a row have complained about our brisket, maybe our process for making brisket needs to be looked at.’ And we started taking that data and making that part of our business culture. No matter what, we were going to always respond to reviews. Whether they were good or bad, we were going to listen. We were going to provide that hospitality.”
Looking at feedback objectively is difficult, but it can help you improve aspects of your business you might not have looked into otherwise. While reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, owning a business is personal, and it’s okay to show your viewers and customers how emotional the experience can be.
“When you talk about your business, your family, your baby, it is raw, and it is emotional. For me, it’s one life. I don’t have a business life and a personal life. I have one life, and every day I have an opportunity to do the thing that I love to do, which is grow my business and make an impact for my family, for my community, for our customers, for all the people that we get to touch base with on a global scale now because of the internet.”
Shawn’s advice for successfully building a digital reputation include:
Be a human and respond as a human. Reviewers take the time to leave feedback about their experience at your business. Let them know there’s a human on the other end of the internet taking the time to read, reply, and thank them for their review. Listening and engaging helps build your reputation and your business.
Find the benefits of bad reviews. Even criticism can lead to something positive. Try to read the reviews objectively and discern any patterns. If multiple people have the same criticism, that’s a golden opportunity for improvement.
Be raw. Internet users crave authentic content, and they can tell when you’re trying to mislead them. Create professional-looking videos, but don’t overthink it. Highlight the people of your business doing what they do best without going for the hard sell.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Shawn Walchef, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.