The power of professional rawness

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“We’re 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 may sound strange at first, Shawn is actually developing his own promotional ecosystem, combining hospitality and marketing to build an authentic reputation.

Today, it is vital 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 promoting 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 have to know how to do it online.”

Whether on TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram, video is the key to engagement.

“The internet wants raw. Professional raw. And you have the best tool 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 that you don’t tell the customer, “Hey, I’m selling barbecue.” I’m making a 15 second video where they show our Pitmaster Bernice in the old hickory pit putting ribs on the smoker.”

However, this powerful, visually appealing content will only be as successful if you post it. According to Shawn, he makes these social media videos part of his daily routine to keep viewers engaged.

“The same way I check email. The same way I check text messages. Wherever I am, I have the ability to provide access to the people who follow us online – a glimpse into the life of a barbecue restaurant owner. A podcaster. Whether I go to Vegas to give a speech to other restaurant owners. Now I bring people into the story. And by involving people in the story, more people invest in our brand and we get more opportunities.”

That said, being authentically online doesn’t necessarily make everyone a fan of your business. There will always be someone who will criticize, often in the form of a review.

“It’s devastating when someone takes the time to write a one-star review and attack all the things you believe in,” Shawn said. And if someone says it, other people may have experienced it and just didn’t take the time to write it. If several people say it operationally, we can look at it and say, “Maybe we have a problem, and maybe we can investigate that problem.”

“Once we started doing that – when I started responding to every single review as it was written, whether it was good or bad – it literally changed how we did business. Does this mean 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 unbiased data and said, “If three people in a row have complained about our chest, maybe our chest-making process should be looked at.” And we started taking that data and making that part of our corporate culture. No matter what, we would always respond to reviews. Whether they were good or bad, we would listen. We were going to offer that hospitality.”

Looking at feedback objectively is difficult, but it can help you improve aspects of your business that you might not have looked at otherwise. While reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, having a business is personal, and it’s okay to show your viewers and customers just how emotional the experience can be.

“When you talk about your business, your family, your baby, it’s raw and emotional. For me it is one life. I have no business and private life. I have one life and every day I have the opportunity to do what 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 we get to now on global scale to make contact with because of the internet.”

Shawn’s advice for successfully building a digital reputation include:

Be human and respond like a human. Reviewers take the time to provide feedback about their experience at your company. Let them know that there is a human on the other side of the internet who takes 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 spot any patterns. If several people have the same criticism, it is a golden opportunity for improvement.

Be raw. Internet users crave authentic content, and they can see when you try to trick them. Make professional-looking videos, but don’t overthink them. Emphasize your company’s people 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 information from new entrepreneurs and reviewers every Thursday.

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