How to Ask for a Favor: A Case Study on the Success of Altruistic Requests

Tim Althoff, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Dan Jurafsky

Proceedings of ICWSM, 2014.


Talk slides (prepared by Tim Althoff)

Data: Pizza Request Dataset

Media coverage:          

                                    MIT Technology Review blog: Data Mining Reddit Posts Reveals How to Ask For a Favor -- And Get it

                                    Huffington Post: Here's The Secret Formula For Getting Free Pizza, According To Science

                                    Lifehacker: The Best Way to Ask Strangers for a Favor, According to Reddit Data

                                    Gizmodo: Reddit Study Reveals How to Ask For Favors Online — and Get Them

                                    Slate’s Future Tense blog: Here’s the Scientific Way to Ask for Pizza, or Any Favor

                                    ABC News: How to Ask Strangers for a Free Pizza

                                    Business Insider: These 3 Traits Will Get People To Do You Favors

                                    International Business Times: Lost Your Job? Study Suggests This is Perfect Time to Ask for a Favour

                                    The Guardian: Reddit, Imgur and Twitch team up as 'Derp' for social data research

                                    Süddeutsche Zeitung: Schöner schnorren - Studie zu Altruismus

                           Om een gunst vragen? Dat doe je zo!



Requests are at the core of many social media systems such as question & answer sites and online philanthropy communities.  While the success of such requests is critical to the success of the community, the factors that lead community members to satisfy a request are largely unknown.  Success of a request depends on factors like who is asking, how they are asking, when are they asking, and most critically what is being requested, ranging from small favors to substantial monetary donations.  We present a case study of altruistic requests in an online community where all requests ask for the very same contribution and do not offer anything tangible in return, allowing us to disentangle what is requested from textual and social factors.  Drawing from social psychology literature, we extract high-level social features from text that operationalize social relations between recipient and donor and demonstrate that these extracted relations are predictive of success.  More specifically, we find that clearly communicating need through the narrative is essential and that that linguistic indications of gratitude, evidentiality, and generalized reciprocity, as well as high status of the asker further increase the likelihood of success.  Building on this understanding, we develop a model that can predict the success of unseen requests, significantly improving over several baselines.  We link these findings to research in psychology on helping behavior, providing a basis for further analysis of success in social media systems.




  author={Tim Althoff and Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Dan Jurafsky},

  title={How to Ask for a Favor: A Case Study on the Success of Altruistic Requests},

  booktitle={Proceedings of ICWSM},