Developing a mobile wallet for consumers is one thing. Getting those consumers interested and educated about how the wallet works and why they should use phones for payments is an entirely different matter.
Isis, the mobile payments joint venture backed by major telecommunications companies, recently posted a series of instructional videos to the video-sharing site YouTube to explain the concept to potential users. Similarly, Square uses videos and a Pinterest page to explain the more complex aspects of its mobile card reader.
These sites provide an advantage over simply hosting videos and images on a company website. YouTube, Pinterest and similar sites have built-in tools that allow consumers to share and comment on the content they like, spreading awareness to other potential users.
"Social media creates viral marketing for new technologies in payments and other industries," says Campbell Edlund, president of Boston-based EMI Strategic Marketing. "It's a very productive place to generate buzz for any new technology."
That buzz can provide the necessary push to get more users testing the technology. "The mobile wallet providers need the consumer to take that next step in the process," she says.
This is important because traditional methods, such as marketing in stores, aren't as reliable with new technology.
"In large retail settings with a lot of employees, you end up with clerks at the terminals who do not know how the mobile wallet technology works and can't explain it to consumers," Edlund says.
Isis representatives would not discuss the next steps in the company's strategy for consumer awareness and adoption because it has not yet begun its tests of its mobile wallet. It plans to test the wallet in Austin and Salt Lake City this summer.
In an interview earlier this year, Square spokeswoman Lindsay Wiese said the company uses Pinterest because "we wanted to reach them where they might be looking for such inspiration." Pinterest allows users to share ideas by linking to pictures and videos, so it has a much more emphasis on images than sites like Twitter and Facebook do.
Mobile wallet providers have experienced many problems stemming from technology and security issues. There are also different business models competing for bank and merchant approval. But consumer education remains one of the biggest hurdles.
"After the consumer puts his accounts into a mobile wallet, he might ask, 'So, what else?' " says Doug Bobenhouse, president and co-founder of Synchology, the prepaid branded payments subsidiary affiliated with processor services provider Total Card Inc.
Mobile wallet technology is likely to prosper by "organic growth," or consumers simply spreading the word to their friends and why they like it, Bobenhouse says.
"A mobile wallet launch will require marketing dollars at the outset, but it will grow by people showing each other how it works," Bobenhouse suggests. "It would be kind of like when the first iPhone came out, it would have a lot of 'gee whiz' to it."
Consumers also need assurance through marketing messages that mobile wallets represent a secure technology, Bobenhouse adds.
Google has heavily marketed its Google Wallet, but had a security setback when hackers accessed PIN codes protecting the prepaid card feature of the wallet, Bobenhouse says. "They have to overcome that bad publicity," he adds.
While Isis makes heavy use of its YouTube page for its instructional videos, many companies are finding social media works best when the information is being passed along in a truly social manner.
"Consumers won't think about security issues first when considering mobile wallets," Mike Bousch, vice president of e-commerce for Discover Financial Services, said at a recent Card Forum conference. "They will think about what their friends have and if they like it, and then their friends will convince them about the security."
Social media is a much more powerful tool for companies when the interaction is social, between friends talking about a product, rather than using the technology solely for a series of advertising or marketing messages, Bousch added.