Rap Genius – When Your Co-Founder Creates a Crisis

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    Crisis plans should include the possibility of even the highest-ranking employees causing reputation damage

    Unfortunately, after every tragedy there are some who are going to make wildly inappropriate comments or even joke, and if one of those people is your organization’s co-founder, you have a major reputation management issue on your hands.

    That’s precisely the situation the folks behind online lyric annotation website Rap Genius found themselves in after co-founder Mahbod Moghadam left a number of tasteless comments on the manifesto of the California college student who killed six of his peers in a senseless act of violence, which had been posted on the Rap Genius site. Among his comments was speculation that the shooter’s sister is “smokin’ hot”, as well as glowing admiration for the writing skills displayed in the twisted rant.

    The backlash, especially on social media, was immediate, and Moghadam’s fellow co-founder and Rap Genius CEO Tom Lehman made the correct, and we’re certain difficult, call to distance his organization from his friend and colleague, announcing the news in a post on the Rap Genius page itself:

    Mahbod Moghadam, one of my co-founders, annotated the piece with annotations that not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny. All of which is contrary to everything we’re trying to accomplish at Rap Genius.

    Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a new Rap Genius user, it would be up to our community leaders, who set the tone of the site and our approach to annotation, to delete them and explain to the new user why they were unacceptable.

    Were Mahbod’s annotations posted by a Rap Genius moderator, that person would cease to be an effective community leader and would have to step down.

    And Mahbod, our original community leader, is no exception. In light of this, Mahbod has resigned – both in his capacity as an employee of the company, and as a member of our board of directors, effective immediately.

    Mahbod is my friend. He’s a brilliant, creative, complicated person with a ton of love in his heart. Without Mahbod Rap Genius would not exist, and I am grateful for all he has done to help Rap Genius succeed. But I cannot let him compromise the Rap Genius mission – a mission that remains almost as delicate and inchoate as it was when we three founders decided to devote our lives to it almost 5 years ago.

    It’s not uncommon for high-level employees or even company heads to be caught in the midst of extremely bad behavior, and when they are that behavior can and does reflect on your organization as a whole. For that reason, crisis management planning cannot afford to overlook the possibility that issues could be created by anyone in your organization, from the very bottom to the members of the team doing the planning themselves.

    You can’t afford to have blind spots when it comes to crises.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]