When wading through the sea of social media comments, it's easy to find evidence to support any theory.
So when MasterCard released some select datapoints on Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7) from a mass of 1.6 million social media comments, it's hardly surprising that it found that its marketing position had been right all along.
MasterCard on Monday said it would e-mail the full report to PaymentsSource, though it did not send the full report by deadline. The portion of data it publically released publically suggests consumer appetite matches the card network’s mobile payments strategy.
"In looking at consumer communications, they have pulled out a remarkably robust set of data that I am hard-pressed to see supported in the communications channels specified. In order to mine the social data, you have to begin by saying 'what are we mining it for?' They started with a premise that they were going to support," said Tim Sloane, vice president of payments innovation at the Mercator Advisory Group.
The released data shows consumers love the convenience of digital payments, with travel being the segment most have often mentioned. "Consumers specifically highlighted their preference for not necessarily needing to take their wallet on every trip and being able to use mobile payments when they travel," the MasterCard news release noted. "Rewards and benefits for the consumer was the most vociferously and positively discussed topic across social media when it came to shopping and retail (38% share of coverage of the six aspects measured). Entertainment was the sector leading the way, where rewards and benefits was most discussed."
The survey also concluded that retailers should accept digital payments more. Why? Because social comments about which retailers do and do not accept digital payments was the second most discussed topic. For those discussions, it was the fashion segment that reigned supreme.
"It would appear that the premise they went out to support were their own marketing messages. They looked at keywords and sentiments that lined up with that in order to validate their expectations. You can't just cherry pick all of the good stuff," Sloane said.
The research does match consumer trends found elsewhere, MasterCard said.
"What we have seen is that it does map very closely to other kinds of research," said Rose Beaumont, the senior vice president and group head of communications for MasterCard Europe, in an interview. "Based on our extensive study of social conversations, we believe that this is representative of consumer sentiment toward the retail space."
A problem with the one example cited by MasterCard is that the people posting those comments are presumably already using digital payments, as in a Google Wallet user searching for places that will accept Google Wallet. It's not especially illuminating that Google Wallet users are seeking out places that accept Google Wallet. The question is "what demand exists with the bulk of consumers, not with those few who have already started using digital payments?"
Another concern cited by Sloane was the report's vagueness in defining digital payments, which means they could be comparing different digital payments comments. "By new digital payments, is that an Uber user? It's not surprising that people like rewards. They're not being specific about what the new forms of payments are," Sloane said. "Is this EMV or contactless? NFC? They could be talking PayPal here. It's really painting this with a broad brush."
MasterCard said the social media sources they examined were Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, China's Weibo, Google+, YouTube, plus an unspecified list of forums.
The data was based on those 1.6 million social comments posted from July 2014 to June 2015 "on the subject of shopping and retail conversations," MasterCard said. A concern is that consumer digital payments attitudes have changed radically from July 2014—which is months before ApplePay was introduced—and comparing July 2014 comments with June 2015 comments might be the classic apples-to-oranges comparison.
Asked if there were any conclusions that she found surprising, Beaumont said "a lot of the behaviors were what we expected," but added "people are cautious of new technologies when making a payment" and that the survey found "almost the opposite, that there is an enthusiasm and an apppetite" for digital payments.
Evan Schuman is a reporter for PaymentsSource.