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

13 May 2014  ·  Tim Althoff, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Dan Jurafsky ·

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. read more

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