If you wanted a group of 50 people to return to a location at a specific time, would you instruct them to “be back here in 10 minutes, at 11:40″ or would you say, “Be here at 20 after. Wait, I mean 20 before which I guess is 20 plus 20.” I was told the latter, which is how I came to be very publicly fired from my first-ever gig as a certified BBQ judge. I’m a big BBQ fan. I have a frightfully expensive Memphis pellet smoker that I use to add deliciousness to all manner of meats. I have watched every episode of BBQ Pitmasters on TV. I read forums like Pelletsmoking.com. I have no fewer than nine different BBQ sauces in my refrigerator right now. Someday, I plan to put together a semi-pro competitive BBQ team with my friends and my son. I don’t have time to compete just yet but I enjoy the subculture, and to get a better feel for the ins and outs of the competitive BBQ circuit I took a class a few weeks ago to become a certified BBQ judge. The Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) is the largest governing body for BBQ in the country, with hundreds of competitions annually, and many thousands of people like me trained to pass numerical judgement on chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket. You even get an official name badge. Yesterday, I drove three hours to Owensboro, Kentucky for my first contest as a judge. My pal Wade Schultz from RootWorkscame along as wingman.
Per KCBS rules, there is one judge for each competing team. So at the 6th annual Grillin and Chillin throw-down, there were 46 of us ready to taste and score, with three judges (including me) making their maiden voyage. Each KCBS competition has organizers sent from the home office to make sure the proceedings are smooth and equitable. In this case, the KCBS organizers were husband and wife Phillip and Kathy (removed last name in new version of this post, because it’s not really relevant) Phillip looks something like a walrus, although not in a heavy set way, just kind of in the face.
The Beginning of the End
Phillip welcomed us, played a 15-minute MP3 file of dos and do nots and led us in the official KCBS judging oath (is there any other kind?), which is the same oath we recited in judging school – rendering it slightly less bizarre than it would have been had it been my first time swearing allegiance to swine. At the conclusion of the oath is when we got the very confusing (at least to me) instructions about when judging would commence. I was already thrown off by the time change between Indiana and Kentucky (which I’d forgotten about), and was under the impression that official tasting started at 1pm. So, I didn’t pay much attention when Phil finished his 20 + 20 + minutes + walrus noises description of when to be back in the judging tent, because I figured we had nearly an hour either way. We had 10 minutes. When I headed to the judging area after aimless milling around, I figured I was considerably early – an error that became clear for two reasons: 1. I could see in the judges tent that everyone was seated 2. Phil shouted at me from 50 yards away something like “Aren’t you judging? You better get down here quick. You better hurry!”At this point, I realized I was there five minutes past when Phil had asked us to be in our seats, and 8 minutes before chicken would be turned in for judging. I yelled back at Phil that I was sorry and that I would be there in just one minute. I ducked into the bathroom to wash my hands (since KCBS is not a fork and knife operation). I popped back out and Phil shouted again:
“Forget it. You’re out. You’ve been replaced.”
I traversed the 50 yards and quietly pled my case, as it was a little silly and a lot embarrassing for me for him to be shouting at me from long distance like I was a woebegone 8 year-old soccer player, and he was Will Ferrell in Kicking and Screaming. A couple of the contest volunteers asked Phil for mercy, given that it was my first time and all. But the KCBS court has no appellate branch when the walrus is on the bench. I was out. So, Wade and I packed up the car and headed north for a strange and unsettling three hour drive home. This bothers me, as I am about as far away from lackadaisical as you can get, as a general rule. The last time I was yelled at in public by an authority figure was 1983, when John MacLeod(then coach of the Phoenix Suns) screamed at me at his basketball camp for not taking a shower before bed. There were extenuating circumstances, but I still think about that day, and I suspect I’ll remember Phil for a while, too.
Social Media and Content Marketing Lessons
Once we’d crossed the state line, Wade half-jokingly asked in his best Dad voice “So, what have we learned today?” I replied that I of course now recognized the importance of being prompt at a BBQ competition. But as I thought about it more and more (and continue to do so), I find there are some other lessons that might help us all, especially if you’re working on expanding the social media and content participation in your company. I wrote about 5 Keys to Effective Social Media and Content Insourcing last week. Consider this a companion piece stained with tears and BBQ sauce. Once you decide to expand your programs beyond centralized participants (usually marketing), you must convince, cajole, and counsel people throughout your company on how to use social media and content marketing effectively on behalf of themselves and the organization. In this BBQ allegory, I am your team members across the enterprise, looking forward to embarking on an exciting new adventure, looking to you for guidance. You are the organizer. You are Phil. You are the walrus, goo goo g’joob.
Lesson 1: Communicate with Clarity
Of course, I am ultimately accountable for what happened to me in Owensboro. The brisket stops here. But, Phil certainly did not clearly articulate his expectations. As the organizer of social media participation in your company, it is your responsibility to make sure that your troops understand precisely what is and what is not okay. That’s why ongoing training and scenario modeling are such critical parts of social media and content marketing expansion and insourcing.
Lesson 2: Never Assume Knowledge
I have realized subsequently that perhaps one of the reasons Phil was so loosey-goosey about the time instructions (and also why everyone else was on time) is that ALL competitions sanctioned by KCBS operate on essentially the same schedule. When you’re working to bring new people in your company into the social media and content fold, never assume they know elements of participation that to you are obvious. Don’t assume they know what RT means, for example. Or h/t. Or a hashtag. Or that they know how to create a subhead on a blog post.
Lesson 3: Overemphasize One on One Support
If I recall correctly, Phil concluded the meeting by asking if anyone had any questions. Given that I was really unsure of what time to return, I most definitely had a question. But I didn’t ask it. Why? I was embarrassed. I’d already been identified as a neophyte by having to raise my hand as a first-timer (not to mention the astronomically high judges number on my badge – they are assigned sequentially). This will happen in your company. People will have questions about social media they believe to be stupid, and they won’t get asked. This imperils the entire operation. As I wrote last week: “You absolutely must have resources (internal and/or third party) that can answer questions and provide guidance in a near-immediate, non-judgmental, confidential fashion. The last point is important, as high level employees in particular may not be comfortable admitting in group scenarios that they don’t know how to do something such as change the distribution settings on a Facebook status update.”
Lesson 4: Make Punishment Fit the Crime
When I tardily arrived back at the judges tent, competition hadn’t started, and would not for a few minutes yet. Nothing I had done (or failed to do) had impacted the competition. Phil made an example out of me. He didn’t have to, but he chose to do so. I’m biased, but I feel the consequences of this transgression were a little over the top. You will be faced with a similar situation, eventually. Someone in your company will do something dubious, deleterious, or even disastrous in social media or content creation. See my post from a while back on the three types of Twitter train wrecksfor evidence. Will you be the Philadelphia Eagles, who fired a long-time employee for a single negative post about the team? Or will you be the Red Cross, who turned lemons into lemonade when faced with an accidentally inappropriate tweet?
Lesson 5: You Catch More Flies With Honey Than With Vinegar
Competitive BBQ is soaring in popularity, and KCBS has more members and judges than they know what to do with, I suspect. But even successful organizations need to be mindful of how their actions are perceived. The single most important aspect of business success is underlying corporate culture, and an organization that embues the walrus with judge, jury, and executioner power and facilitates it being deployed maliciously makes me question the values of the enterprise. It is critical to recognize the power of new, and of first impressions. What’s the best time to sell something in an e-commerce environment? First site visit. What’s the best time to cross-sell and up-sell products? On the confirmation email after first purchase. What’s the best time to get a new Facebook fan? On the email sign-up thank you page. The TV show Bar Rescue(one of my favorites) says that we make impressions of a bar in the first three steps in the door. Research in the public speaking field says that the audience makes important judgements about the efficacy of the speaker before he or she finishes their first sentence. When you draft new blood into your social media and content initiative, you have to understand and expect that they are disproportionately likely to make mistakes. In my experience, if you correct those mistakes in a way that’s supportive and instructive, you can actually use them as a mechanism to build loyalty and greater participation. Mistakes aren’t a problem, they’re an opportunity.
To Judge or Not to Judge
They say the best measure of an organization isn’t how it handles its business when times are good, but rather how it handles its business when problems occur. And from that perspective, I’m not sure what to make of KCBS. I was 100% wrong. There is no question about it. But I’m not certain I want to be a part of an organization that employs management principles that are in sharp contrast to what I believe, and what I teach to my clients. What do you think? Should I judge again?