Interview with Brian Nugent- President of Lunchwalla.com

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Oh okay, so it was more of a get-quotes-via-email kind of interview but I’m nevertheless very pleased with it. A few days back I wrote a blog post on lunchwalla.com, a social networking site that enables users to plan everyday social events centred on food (read: lunch/dinner/drinks) online with a few mouse-clicks. I wanted to find out more about the people behind this new venture and so shot off a few questions that Brian Nugent, President and Co-founder of Lunchwalla, very kindly responded to.

 

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Nestle’s Social Media Fail

Oh dear. Nestle is having its backside handed to it on Facebook in what will go down in many a Business School text-book as one of the worst Social Media Fail case studies. Nestle has been facing boycott campaigns for more than 30 years now but we didn’t have Social Media in the 70s and 80s, did we? Now that we do, the crap has hit the fan and how! Their page on Facebook is flooded with uncomplimentary messages after whoever manages their PR/Social Media operations threatened to delete comments that protested against the company’s alleged role in the illegal clearance of rainforests by using altered versions of their logo, that quite ironically uses the image of a nest of birds.

It all started when Greenpeace alleged Nestle’s palm oil supplier Sinar Mars was involved  in illegal rainforest clearance in Indonesia. A virtual protest movement took birth with people using altered versions of the Nestle logo as their Display Pictures and posting some pretty strong comments on the company’s Facebook page.  Nestle replied saying, “We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.” To nobody’s surprise that post received around 166 comments, most of which were pretty acidic.

A commenter Paul Griffin wrote, “I understand that you’re on your back-foot due to various issues not excluding palm oil but social media is about embracing your market, engaging and having a conversation rather than preaching!” To which Nestle replied saying, “Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus.” Uh oh. What a whopper of a fail!

Nestle had cancelled its contract with Sinar Mas when the protests first broke out. But instead of assuring people who commented on their page that they had done so, were learning from their mistakes, and valued their customers’ opinions they decided to channel the spirit of a petulant 5-year-old instead. You DO NOT set the rules when you venture into Social Media, you’re an equal. You use the space to converse with your consumers and tide over a crisis like this by assuaging their doubts about your practices and products, not by acting like a playground bully. How is Nestle going to get out of this one?

Lunchwalla- Putting the Social back into Social Networking

Social Networking has since its inception, raised concerns about how, by limiting face-to-face interactions, it actually makes users anti-social and prevents them from forming ‘real’ friendships. And while there may be some merit to these concerns, things stand to change with the launch of Social Networking sites that facilitate real life interaction between friends, thereby encouraging people to maintain a more-than-virtual connection with people in their social circle. Lunchwalla, launched this March, enables users to plan everyday social events (food being a necessary prerequisite) with friends and connections on your Social Networking sites. It also allows you to integrate your Lunchwalla profile with your Facebook profile, thereby making the good old question, “Say, do you want to meet over lunch/dinner/drinks?” all the more easier to handle.

 

I thought that being based in the US, Lunchwalla probably wouldn’t be able to provide me with options in my part of the world (a city in India), but was pleasantly surprised when it turned up a fairly acceptable (if not very comprehensive) list of eateries in my city. And while the ‘coupon system’ that gives users discounts on their meals was understandably not available to me, directions to said eateries were. What appealed to me was that the site includes a ‘vote’ option wherein friends you have invited for a planned event (say, lunch) could vote for the restaurant they wanted to eat in, from a list of options that you provide. Having spent many hours trying to zero in on a place to meet while everyone yells “Unfair!” when you pick a place they don’t like, I love this feature.

I understand the site is still in the Beta stage so I hope it also provides a version for mobile phones. Seeing that most of us these days don’t really have the luxury of having a computer around while we’re running around all over the place trying to meet deadlines, having a mobile version seems quite necessary if the site really wants to live up to its promise of a  no-fuss get-together.

Note: The name is a turn on the Hindi word ‘Dabbawalla‘ that literally translates to ‘Lunch-box Man’. I sensed an India Connection.  I was right- one of the founders has Indian origins.