Sounds interesting right? Actually, before you rush off to Expedia or Travelocity to book your flights, it’s the amusing result of someone not proofreading banner content before sending it to the printer.

It happened this week in Hoi An, Vietnam’s best preserved historic town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banners were hung up all over town advertising the annual Lantern Festival (Le Hoi Long DenLe Hoi meaning festival, Long Den meaning lantern), but someone had missed off the ‘g’ from Long, meaning the banners read Le Hoi Lon Den – which means Black Pussy Festival (and we’re not talking cats here).

An excellent illustration of the value of careful proofreading! Though that missing ‘g’ may well increase the number of tourists attending the festival so maybe it was intentional after all…

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It seems that hardly a day goes by without seeing a news item about another company banning its staff from using Facebook on their office PCs. As a regular Facebooker who uses the site both for business and pleasure, I find this attitude rather bizarre and very narrowminded, because Facebook is actually a fantastic business tool.

Sure, at first sight, the various pics, graffiti walls, music/film apps and other ephemera that make up the average Facebook profile (my own included) might make the site look somewhat frivolous, but dive deeper and you see there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Groups
Facebook makes it easy for anyone to start their own group on whatever topic they like, meaning business can use the function to create customer committees, company events boards, staff intranets, recruitment forums, customer service/feedback areas, and much more.

Surveys
For a small fee, users can post surveys on any topic and make them available to the Facebook network of their choice – a great market research tool for companies targeting the Facebook demographic of 25-40 year olds.

Events
Users can post events free of charge, invite all their friends, and publicise them within their network and groups. I recently posted one of my company’s events on the site (a seminar on hotel web design & online booking). Not only did we get a couple of registrations as a result, but the event was also spotted by a local journalist from one of Vietnam’s biggest newspapers, who will attend the seminar and hopefully write a nice article about us!

This tool is particularly useful in a city like HCMC where events are usually badly publicised (if they are publicised at all), and where there are no decent listings/what’s on magazines.

Recruitment
As well as creating a company group with recruitment functionality, companies can also use Facebook to headhunt. Looking for a Java programmer in Vietnam? Go into the Vietnam network and dos search with ‘java’ in the ‘job’ field, and see what you can find!

Communicating/Networking/Socialising
One of the biggest drawbacks of business social networking site Linkedin is that it’s, well, boring. Facebook isn’t. Facebook makes it easy to find people in your area who you can do business with, helps you get to know existing contacts a lot better (I can look up people I know and find out their favourite films/music, what sports they like to play, how many children they have etc., which makes conversation a lot easier next time I meet them!), and facilitates the creation of social/business networks. Using Facebook as an internal tool also helps your staff get to know each other better, and as mentioned above, Facebook could even be used as a corporate intranet.

Development
Facebook’s open development platform allows anyone to create an application and make it available to the site’s users. Some apps, such as Top Friends and Funwall, have over a million active users. Whilst there isn’t any direct money to be made out of most Facebook apps as they are free to use, they’re a great way to get your brand name known and to attract people to use your paid services.

With Myspace only really appealing to teenagers, and Linkedin being as dull as ditchwater, more and more people are moving to Facebook and the site will shortly overtake Myspace as the web’s biggest social network – as of July 2007, it had 34,000,000 users with over 100,000 joining every day. With figures like that, and with functionality which provides communication, networking, marketing/market research and other business tools mostly free of charge, businesses can no longer ignore Facebook and should be looking at encouraging their staff to embrace it, rather than banning it!

In my earlier posting Leverage is NOT a verb, I mentioned the metaphorical use of the word ‘vanilla’ (as in ‘vanilla report’, ‘vanilla implementation’, ‘vanilla model’ etc.)

On the face of it, vanilla isn’t a bad metaphor for a basic, no-frills version of a product. After all, vanilla is the basic, no-frills ice cream flavour the world over. Isn’t it?

Well, this brings us to the issue of cross-cultural communication here. In Europe and the US, vanilla is indeed the default ice cream flavour. But not everywhere else.

Here in Vietnam for example, you’re just as likely to be given ice cream made from taro, a type of sweet potato, or durian, the foul-smelling fruit banned by most hotels and airlines, and which the novelist Anthony Burgess accurately described as ‘like eating custard in the lavatory’. Vanilla is a more exotic, ‘foreign’ flavour.

In rural Vietnam, as in other huge swathes of the developing world, the scarcity of refrigeration means that ice cream, regardless of flavour, is a rare, exotic delicacy – describe a car model as ‘vanilla’ to someone from a village in Cambodia and in the unlikely event of them understanding you, they’d probably assume you were talking top-of-the-range.

The French have a similar expression to describe pointless exercises or dry runs (mock exams and the like) – ‘c’est pour du beurre’, meaning ‘it’s just for butter’. Butter in France, as in most parts of the developed world, being a basic foodstuff – a vanilla product, if you will. But again, in countries with scarce refrigeration, or in which dairy animals are not reared, butter is an expensive delicacy, so tell someone that what they’re doing is ‘for butter’ and they’ll doubtless be very happy and work harder!

The point being that it can be fun to come up with these seemingly handy business metaphors, but that caution should be exercised when using them inter-culturally – you may well be misunderstood or simply not understood at all.