Check out this study by Prof. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!). She tested the hypothesis that thinking about money can create social barriers. Here is a description of what she did:

“To examine this idea in a more controlled setting, Vohs, now at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues recruited several hundred college students to participate in a variety of experiments. In each experiment, the researchers subtly prompted half the volunteers to think of money—by having them read an essay that mentioned money, for example, or seating them facing a poster depicting different types of currency—before putting them in a social situation. In one experiment, the researchers gave volunteers a difficult puzzle and told them to ask for help at any time. People who had been reminded of money waited nearly 70% longer to seek help than those who hadn’t. People cued to think of money also spent only half as much time, on average, assisting another person who asked for their help with a word problem and picked up fewer pencils for someone who”d dropped them.”

This may be my own twisted logic, but this study has important—and perhaps counter-intuitive and even puzzling—implications vis-a-vis the evangelism of products and services. That is, if a company brings money into an evangelistic relationship with its customers, it could create barriers and instead of incentives—for example, if Apple, Harley-Davidson, and Tivo paid their customers to spread the word. After all, evangelism is the process of selling dreams, and selling dreams doesn’t necessarily require monetization.

My take on this is that if you have to pay your customers to evangelize your product or service, you probably don’t have a great product or service.