How to get Social Media to do You a Favor

There is no formula to follow when asking for a favor.

Most of the time when someone asks you for a favor there is the assumption that you will be getting something back in return. However, there are some instances when people do things for others with no expectation of getting something out of it. The latter is the subject of a new study, "How to Ask for a Favor: A Case Study on the Success of Altruistic Requests" by Tim Althoff, Crisian Danescu-Niculsescu-Mizil and Dan Jurafsky.


The authors used the social community website to conduct to their study. It's important to know a little about Reddit. The website is divided into thousands of different groups called "Subreddit's" where people with a common interest come together. One example of a Subreddit is the r/labrador Subreddit where owners and fans of Labrador Retrievers post pictures and stories of their dogs or dogs they know. An example of a Subreddit more related to helping companies is the r/SEO Subreddit which contains threads for everything related to search engine optimization.

In this study, the authors focused in on the Subreddit called "Random Acts of Pizza" (RAOP). Here, people can make posts stating reasons why they would like a pizza and then readers of RAOP can private message the person who they wish to buy the pizza for to find out their contact information. The authors stated that they chose RAOP because every post asks for the same thing and there is nothing tangible that the buyer of pizza gets in return (Reddit flair and Reddit gold are not tangible things). What were the results?



The results show that there are a number of different ways that improved the requester's chances of someone giving them a pizza. One of the best ways this can be done is by including an image as additional support for their post. The authors believe that the inclusion of an image helped to increase the level of trust between the requester and the giver thus improving the chances that they would be given a pizza.

Considering the very short attention span of humans today, it would be excusable to assume that keeping requests short and sweet would be more beneficial than a long narrative. The study found that longer requests were noticeably more likely to be granted. In fact, on page six of the case study the authors state, "Length is arguably the most simple and accessible feature associated with success."

Not as surprising, but still noteworthy, was that requester's who stated that they were willing to "pay it forward" in the future were significantly more likely to have their request filled. Unfortunately though, out of all of the people who claim to reciprocate the gesture only 9.9 percent actually do. The authors take care to mention that it is possible that some people simply have not gotten around to reciprocating the gesture yet.

In conjunction with length, reciprocity and image use, higher status within the community was another way the authors discovered that made favor's more likely to be granted. The study found that someone with high status in Reddit as well as high status in RAOP was significantly more likely to have their pizza request answered than someone who was new or who had low status in Reddit and the RAOP community.


While the findings in this study are specific to Reddit, more specifically the RAOP Subreddit community, it is not illogical to think that these same techniques could be used on other social media websites to increase the likelihood of someone doing you a favor even if nothing is promised to them in return.