London: World’s first social media Olympics


Whilst tracking the key moments of the London Olympics, I realised how reliant I was on the text updates that beeped on my Blackberry and then when time permits go to YouTube or the official websites to experience this key happening as it unfolds to the world. But, then I realised that my friends had already updated the network on Facebook with their own thoughts which made everyone of us a journalist. So it’s not wrong to theme London the world’s first social media Olympics.

Apparently the radio took 31 years to reach 50 million listeners whilst the TV took 13 years. The internet took three years to reach 50 million and Facebook has just taken under a year to reach this magical mark and the latest data that is being thrown out is that FB has 901 million plus people.
Think about it: With just one update by Mark Zuckerberg, he can talk to one-seventh of the world in a minute, which means he can shape and influence people’s thoughts, which can in turn drive behavioural change. A testimony to that was the Arab Spring, which was totally driven by social media.
So it is fair to say that social media sets the tone for the communication that rolls out to the world that is then captured on TV and radio media whilst what the print media says to the world is almost at the end of the news. This is the extent to which we are slow, as you read this piece in today’s Daily FT.
I guess this is why the global readership of the print medium is declining and most youngsters do not follow the wise man’s habit of reading print. The world is sure changing but some of us are not.

When Michael Phelps jumped out of the pool around four years back to hug an elderly lady from the crowd, all were wondering who it was. Later the story emerged how Michael was diagnosed with the health issue Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and it was this lady (his mother) who used to read him kids’ stories for almost four hours a day to get him out of it. Today, this man is the greatest athlete that the world has seen with 22 Olympic medals and 18 of them being gold medals.

Implications for Sri Lanka 1
Sri Lanka’s external trade is in a spin in 2012 with the declining export business. I feel that rather than finding ways to architecture the issue at hand, the time has come for us to understand the key issues and address them with logic with private-public partnerships.
If there are some strategic reforms that are required we must address them from this sector as it’s the easiest to implement with feedback hitting the numbers in the shortest possible time. Time is the essence now.

Best in the world
When Hussain Bolt thundered down the 100m at a blistering pace of 9.63 seconds to set up a new record, his comment to the world was: “I just had to show the world I was the greatest”. He took this position because there were many contenders who had beaten him to the run up to the Olympics and he showed with action that he is the best in the world.

Implications for Sri Lanka 2
I guess there are times Sri Lanka must also take this stance at times when challenged. Last week Ceylon Tea did this with a private-public partnership approach, which to be honest is an example that can be replicated by other sectors.
Top four global marketing communications companies made some strong pitches to get the Ceylon Tea account which is worth an investment of 10 million dollars. I am happy that for once we are telling the world that Ceylon Tea is the best quality tea that one can enjoy.

$ 19 billion
The Greek games was projected at $ 8.5 billion and ended at 12.5 billion that shaved two GDP percentage points. The London Games was originally estimated at $ 8 billion but the latest information coming out says that the bill will be $ 19 billion dollars.
I am seriously wondering what the ramifications will be for the British economy, which is already at a double dip recession and the expected tourist arrivals only to grow by just one per cent due to the Olympics.

Implications for Sri Lanka 3
Sri Lanka needs to take a cue from such lessons that the world is encountering and must be thankful that the Commonwealth Games did not materialise. Maybe the promotional funds could have been better invested on the Sri Lanka Premier League, which Sri Lanka has the infrastructure and experience to stage. Maybe with some funding we could have attracted some stronger names from across the world.
I feel we must redefine our purpose and use Sri Lanka to bring South Asia together. This can start with sports and then moved into a logistics hub, knowledge hub and then to an apparel hub. Thereafter, the rest can follow such as shopping hub and tea hub.
Worst case
Whilst there is a huge hype when staging a gigantic event like the Olympics in a country, it’s also important to understand the worst case scenarios if things do not work out well. For instance, whilst it is obvious that tourists must come into London due to the Olympic Games, the reality is that some are avoiding a London visit and travelling to other parts of Europe.
There are hotels discounting their rooms by almost 25 per cent and West End theatre chain which operates six venues say that ticket sales are off 30 per cent, which is somewhat surprising. The London attractions are reporting a downward trend by 35 per cent, which are indications that the hype is not turning to money.

Implications for Sri Lanka 4
Sri Lanka must also watch this on the tourism front. Even though tourist arrivals are up, the five star hotels are not experiencing the same success bout with their numbers; the reason being we are not attracting the five star visitor into the country even though the war threat does not exist.
Apparently 7,000 new rooms are planned for the city in the three to five years and one must take a quick look on the logic of these numbers and how we can get the world to know that Sri Lanka is more than beaches.

Train ticket
When my friend booked a ticket to watch Mark Phelps in action, with the Olympic ticket came a London travel card for each day. I felt this was great planning, given that if not there would have been miles of queues waiting to get their travel sorted out. This is the essence of good planning given that one has worked outside the scope of his authority to ensure the customer is not inconvenienced.

Implications for Sri Lanka 5
The cue to Sri Lanka is that we must also get our act together on the tea industry. Whilst the global tea campaign is shaping up with some passionate officials from the Government and private sector, on the supply chain end we must correct the ground reality with regard to the ageing tea stock.
Almost 90 per cent of tea in the corporate business in over 60 years old. We see the volume decline of the smallholder business too given the ageing stock of tea hitting the numbers. Unless Sri Lanka corrects the supply chain issues by going into the details, we are losing our competitive edge globally.

Beckham factor
When I was watching David Beckham on a speed boat going down the Thames River carrying the Olympic Torch as fireworks exploded around him, even though he was dropped from the World Cup squad, my mind just took me to a man who was confident in himself and his abilities and he did what he felt was right and capable at that moment of time.

Implications for Sri Lanka 6
I guess we must do the same in our business life. Rather than comparing ourselves, we must be clear on the skill set we posses and take the position in the economy based on our skill set and capabilities. Critics will be at play always, but we must stay on course to reach our set objectives.

Murray era
The moment that most British people were waiting for came on Sunday when Andy Murray beat the legendary Roger Federer all ends up with a brilliant 6/2, 6/1, 6/4 performance that sure stunned the world.
After all, Federer is a seven times Wimbledon champion and world number one as of today and Murray has lost four times to this great man at Grand Slam tournaments. Even if you go through the statistics post the match, Federer’s numbers outsmart Murray except on unforced errors, climbing to 34 in total.

Implications for Sri Lanka 7
The lesson to us in business is that we must never stop trying even if we fail for years and sometimes on the verge of tears like what Andy Murray in fact was, post the Wimbledon loss last month.
But this time he beat last year’s Wimbledon champ Dojovick and then moved on to beat this year’s star Federer, which sure motivates many of us, showing that we can win if we pursue our objectives.

People first
Whilst the Olympics can financially be a load on a country, the qualitative benefits that the Olympic spreads to the world with its inspirational stories – be it Mark Phelps or Andy Murray or for that matter the young American gymnast Douglas who left home at 14 to chase the dream she had that ended up with a Gold Medal at the Olympics – the lesson to the world is that the people make the difference and not statistics.

Implications for Sri Lanka 8
Sometimes we at work are also keen on the final numbers at the end of the month on top line and bottom line, losing focus on the people who deliver them. So it is for the macro. We talk of eight per cent GDP growth but forget to address the untold stories of the heroes who drive the economy. Maybe the Olympics is a lesson to change direction.

(The author has a black belt in karate and is an alumnus of Harvard University, Boston. The thoughts are strictly his personal views and not those of the organisations he serves in Sri Lanka or internationally.)

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