CASE STUDY: MasterCard – Applying Social Media Research Insights for Better Business Decisions


One of the few steadfast companies that committed fully to research by making insights more actionable, and became more strategic, efficient, and successful is MasterCard.

In 2011, MasterCard’s executive leadership challenged the organization to transform the B2B financial services giant into a more consumer-focused technology company.

To do so, MasterCard created the Conversation Suite – a dynamic, global insights and engagement engine – built and supported by a global team of communications and social experts who monitor, engage in and analyze conversations around the world in real-time, 24/7. The social listening and analysis of public profile social data serve as a barometer, a resource, and as a foundation for communication decision-making. One demonstration of MasterCard’s ability to transform data into insights, actions and business results relates to its efforts in mobile payments, an emerging form of commerce enabled through the use of mobile devices.

27780522553_d39f6d59ceMasterCard is a technology company in the global payments industry. They operate the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, traveling, running a business and managing finances – easy, secure and efficient

In 2011 the mobile phone became the consumer method of choice for making purchases and managing money[1]. MasterCard was perfectly placed to help merchants provide their customers with a safe, simple, smart way to pay using their mobile devices. In a strategic drive, MasterCard led developments of standards and was among the first to launchobile commerce technologies that let people, “pay with a tap”[2].

As part of this drive, the MasterCard executive team embarked on a journey to transform the B2B financial services giant into a more consumer-focused payments technology company.  From a communications standpoint, MasterCard was squarely B2B; the opportunity was to shift engagement online and develop a direct relationship and dialogue with consumers and influencers.

MasterCard created the award-winning[3] Conversation Suite – a dynamic, global insights and engagement engine to track and monitor conversations across 56 markets and 26 languages 24/7 in real-time. The Conversation Suite applies data to uncover research-based insights to achieve better business results.  The data analysis became a foundation for communications decision-making and a barometer and resource to the entire business.

Among the first discoveries in 2012, data scientists uncovered a trend revealing consumers’ great excitement and anticipation for the emerging mobile commerce technology. But those who tried it expressed two sources of anxiety: lack of acceptance and data security. Deep contextual analysis revealed concerns over ‘data security’ centered on unfamiliarity with the technology and the possibility of personal data compromises. Frustration over ‘lack of acceptance’ also arose over the inability of certain merchants to process mobile payments at point of sale.

Beyond the PR team who listened, engaged and refined their communication, social data insights profoundly influenced planning and execution throughout the company. This “voice of the consumer” directly influenced marketing messaging, advertising campaigns, product development, and merchant training programs. Following the initial discovery, the company’s market research survey results confirmed the social media findings.  Since the time of this example, MasterCard continues to apply social media insights to achieve more fully integrated business decisions.

The Conversation Suite’s role as a seminal business tool has been proven many times over.  MasterCard evolved the analytics to provide ongoing social insights and strategic guidance for meaningful business results. In years two and three, MasterCard applied its research findings to lower barriers to mobile payments by:

  • Interpreting the evolving social discussion of mobile commerce to inform marketing and communication targeting and messaging
  • Providing a pulse of social opinion for the mobile payments industry
  • Uncovering positive and negative drivers of use, adoption and sentiment in global markets
  • Reporting on barriers to adoption of mobile technology for consumers and merchants to help MasterCard overcome them


To generate earned media insights that could be trusted, upheld, and executed required a more sophisticated approach than a tool alone could offer. The Conversation Suite did the heavy lifting using complex, multi-language search string algorithms and human-validated analytics. The right streams of data were identified using search string methodologies to remove false positives, spam and splogs (spam blogs), as well as ensuring the right geographical signals.  Data scientists applied a layer of subject matter expertise, statistical acumen and critical thinking to create the necessary insights.

The deliverables were real-time monitoring and analysis of online communications including News, Blogs, Weibo, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Instagram, Boards and Forums.  MasterCard employees could self-sufficiently access relevant content and human-validated data, as well as create real-time research and reporting. MasterCard generated regular timely reports, showing key metrics, SWOT analyses, key influencers and industry themes. The aim was to help MasterCard set smarter objectives, develop better strategies, create more compelling tactics and execution, evaluate performance, and drive continuous performance versus objectives, competitors and past performance.

Importantly, an annual study of social commentary around mobile payments was developed to assess people’s willingness to adopt mobile payment services. The annual Mobile Payments Study, now in its fourth year, aimed to assess people’s awareness, understanding, attitudes, preferences and behavior toward existing payment options throughout North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Rim. To assist in leading the industry agenda, visually compelling, sharable graphics were created to summarize the findings.


Using proprietary social media analytics expertise, methods and technology, researchers identified millions of relevant social media posts each year on the subject of mobile payment innovation in the context of MasterCard and its industry peers. From the huge volume of posts, a broad sample of substantive comments were subjected to more granular expert human-coded content analysis.  The resulting insights were converted into actionable business drivers. The findings were successfully applied throughout MasterCard and adopted across the wider industry.

Evolving global picture of mobile payments

In 2013, MasterCard’s Mobile Payments study revealed that mobile payments transitioned from skepticism to adoption as 81% of conversations were driven by users who adopted mobile payments compared to only one-third the previous year. In 2014, the social media analysis revealed that conversations had gone from “problem solved” to “what’s next?” (See below Figure 1.2). In 2015 consumers began to embrace the mobile payments and were beginning to ask banks and merchants to provide mobile payment options.

The global picture was well illustrated for the MasterCard team. Users based in Europe were the most vocal in expressing opinions about mobile payment technology followed closely by Asia-Pacific and the United States. Some skepticism was evident in Europe as consumers discussed mobile payment security and general reservations about the feasibility of worldwide adoption.

Across the Latin America and Caribbean regions, non-adopters expressed a need for clarification on the mobile payment technologies offered as well as a clearer understanding of the cost implications mobile payments may have on their current lifestyles. China, Thailand, Australia, Japan and Singapore were the most active countries across Asia. Users discussed product experiences and shared opinions about news stories originating in traditional media. Discussions in the Middle East and Africa tended to retell or redistribute stories which originated in traditional media with the highest shares of discussion stemming from South Africa, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Nigeria. In the United States, users showed interest in the compatibility of mobile payments with other payment systems. Other drivers of discussion centered on value, longer-term benefits, as well as security. These insights were fed back into MasterCard’s global communications strategy and formed the basis of wider industry insight.


Figure 1.2 – What the Social Web is Saying about Mobile Payments

 Strategic communications guidance

MasterCard used the in-depth global picture to inform messaging and targeting strategy. MasterCard’s paid, earned and owned communication reinforced high-potential themes on which led the industry and elevated themes which needed to be improved.—

Leading the mobile payments industry agenda

MasterCard’s insights were used as an industry barometer for understanding consumer and merchant adoption. The study revealed significant year-over-year improvements on a number of key performance indicators:

  • The 2015 study tracked 2 million global social media posts about mobile payments across social channels up from 85,000 posts in 2012, the first year of the study.
  • Sentiment was on the upswing in 2015 with 95% of consumers feeling positive or neutral about mobile payments technology, an increase of 1 percentage point over 2014 and 18 percentage points over 2013.
  • Safety & security of mobile payments continues to drive conversations with sentiment improving further in 2015, now 94% positive or neutral, a 3 percentage point increase over the 2014 study. This reflects an overall trend across all years of the study, where security sentiment was 77% positive or neutral in 2013 and 70% in 2012.

The 2015 study was revealed at Mobile World Congress where MasterCard was at the center of all mobile payment conversation throughout one of the industry’s most important events. Striking data visualization assisted in the spread of the story and intensive media interest. The data insights were covered extensively throughout global mainstream and social media.

Drivers of use, adoption and sentiment

As sentiment toward mobile payments improved significantly, the analysis demonstrated the user experience, technical quality, and acceptance network was improving for consumers. Most posts praised aspects including Innovation, Convenience and Speed, and findings were fed back into the business.

Despite increasing consumer sentiment, Experience remained an opportunity for improvement as it ranked as a high frustration point for users.  Transaction Experience, Technical Functionality and Consumer Security Protection were all identified as areas for education and product improvement.

Barriers to adoption as a business driver

To drive successful outcomes, the research identified barriers to adoption to be fed back into the business. Merchant acceptance was the most visible topic identified early on in the program. Over time, merchant availability went from a barrier to entry for non-adopters to the most discussed positive topic. The findings were consistent with discoveries about merchant engagement. Merchant conversations were driven by those who had implemented mobile solutions; non-adopting merchants increasingly turned to social media to seek mobile payments advice from other merchants. Many merchants discussed the benefits of mobile payments, in many cases as a differentiator for their business.

With confusion over security highlighted as a barrier, consumer education efforts in particular were identified as being critical to the success and adoption of mobile payments. The research identified an opportunity for education: despite robust security, confusion existed on how mobile technology could reverse fraudulent and unauthorized charges. Consumers using MasterCard for mobile payments are protected through MasterCard’s zero liability policy.


In a world where many global organizations sit in limbo debating social media’s impact on ‘Big Data’ decision-making, MasterCard committed fully to research, applied the findings, and became more strategic, efficient, and successful. The company’s data and insights aid in the execution of communications campaigns in real time – whether identifying and responding to an issue or facilitating creative opportunities to position the brand with media, influencers and consumers.

Over the course of the last four years, MasterCard’s social insights have been used to successfully inform communications strategy, shape product messaging, and facilitate successful targeting. MasterCard has effectively shifted consumer conversations from questioning available mobile options and the security of mobile, to the possibilities of enhanced experiences through tech innovations on digital devices.

A 40-foot screen located in the atrium in the heart of MasterCard’s corporate office, the physical Conversation Suite has become a coveted destination for MasterCard employees, heightening awareness of the importance of the millions of online conversations shaping the brand and industry and serving as a flexible space for brainstorming and information sharing. The Conversation Suite has helped to evolve the company culture to be more open and collaborative, by demonstrating best-in-class engagement within the industry and transforming MasterCard into a more consumer-focused, aware and insights-led technology payments company.


The Conversation Suite occupies the center of MasterCard’s headquarters in Purchase, New York.

Throughout the four years of its Mobile Payments study, MasterCard’s traditional market research study confirmed the integrity of the social media insights, delivered in a fraction of the time and at a significantly lower relative cost. MasterCard’s social media analysis now works to complement MasterCard’s surveys as data-integration adds context and rigor to the findings.

The Conversation Suite has helped to evolve the MasterCard culture to be more open and collaborative, demonstrated best-in-class engagement within the industry, and met the challenge of transforming MasterCard into a more consumer-focused, aware, and insights-led technology payments company.


[1] International Telecommunications Union, 2011.


[3] PR Platinum Award 2013 for Best Use of Research and Evaluation; Sabre Award 2014 Company of the Year etc.

This case study is excerpted from the Institute for Public Relations white paper, “Irreversible: The PR Big Data Revolution” by Mark Weiner and Sarab Kochhar, PhD. To read the full paper, click here

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