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It’s Better To Be Wise Than Smart

It’s Better to be Wise than Smart

“If it comes to choosing between being wise and being smart, I’d rather be wise.” – me

“It’s a good thing, Daddy, because you’re not very smart.” – Brenna Benzakein (Age 4)

I was driving her to Taekwondo Class a few years ago when the above conversation happened. I literally had to pull over to the side of the road because I was laughing so hard. She, obviously, was smart.

I’ve been working in the WordPress Community for a number of years now. I’ve been involved in the Tech industry long enough that at one point, I was considered the young one. While the WordPress Community is peppered with some pentagenarians and older, it is still a young scene; a scene with many of them far smarter than I. I admit, though, that sometimes, I question their wisdom.

Let’s talk about Crisis Management
Over the last couple of years, I have submitted a presentation topic (and been rejected) to a few of the larger WordCamps in which I talk about the Crisis Management side of Public Relations. It’s a category within PR that is often overlooked or ignored entirely. It’s also an area of PR that I’ve been fascinated with since discovering it (the hard way; Scroll down to “Manage This” for that story) almost 19 years ago. I believe that one of the main reasons people don’t like to talk about Crisis Management is because it forces them to take a hard look at themselves. It forces them to be transparent with their customers making it necessary for them to admit to something that they’d rather brush under the rug. Perfect examples from outside of the WordPress Community are:

United Airlines refuses to let some young women on the plane because they were wearing leggings, clothing deemed inappropriate according to the United Policy Manual.
Reality: They were flying on a “Friends and Family of Employees” ticket, so the policy applied to them.

United Airlines drags a doctor off the plane because they overbooked the flight.
Reality: Policy stated that they can bump people if no one voluntarily gives up their seat due to overbooking.

The truth is that in both of the above cases, United Airlines was technically within their rights to do what they did, (except for the DRAGGING a man off of the plane part).

Within the WordPress Community, we have seen several examples of bad PR moves in the past with little to no crisis management.

WooThemes concludes that Lifetime licenses are not a viable business model
Reality: They’re not.

GoDaddy buys a couple of entities to help bolster their offerings. People are upset with companies for “selling out.”
Reality: The purpose of a business is to make money and GoDaddy has deep pockets.

A commonly used theme and local development software developer quit paying their staff, discontinues support, and essentially disappears until the dust settles with no announcement.
Reality: Who knows? I’m not sure anyone really knows what happened at the time

Here’s the thing: Actuality is not reality. Optics is reality.

When it comes to dealing with the public, there is oftentimes little room for actuality. It’s all about the optics. It’s all about what the public THINKS is going on.

You control your marketing. Your Community controls your brand.

One of the things I’ve observed in many bad PR situations is that the people who are in charge (let’s call them, “The Accused”) feel the need to defend their actions rather than show any sort of empathy or understanding of what the public is telling them. Many times, they act as if they know better. Many times, this ends up making them look arrogant and out of touch. This does not go to bolster the brand. It’s not uncommon for these people to think that they’re smarter than most. They often are but don’t realize that they’re being unwise in their actions or responses and come across as unfeeling and uncaring.

We now live in a world where a CEO of a company can go to bed feeling on top of the world about their company but wake up to a tweet storm that immediately drives down stock prices. Instead of consulting with people who may know how to handle these situations better, they issue an ill-formed statement which only diminishes public opinion more. They may show poor judgment and respond to the public tweets. Many times the reality that the Accused sees IS actuality, but focusing on the actuality to defend their actions instead of the reality of public opinion can send the wrong message.

The public is made up of human beings. Stating legalities or policies when someone’s life has been impacted is unwise. Making changes or handing down edicts when it affects a company’s production or a person’s income, or personal/family life requires empathy and understanding. Some companies handle this with a human touch while others do not.

We no longer live in a world where the public blindly trusts what companies tell them. We no longer live in a world where there is an absolute separation between corporate life and home life. They are intertwined, and the sooner that leaders and companies realize this and respond accordingly, the sooner they will be viewed as wise and not just smart.