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The importance of timing when it comes to asking for help


One of the central use cases behind the rise in enterprise social networking has been the way they will facilitate knowledge sharing amongst employees.

Indeed, the virtue of giving has been a popular topic in management circles since Adam Grant brought it to mass attention with his best selling book Give and Take.

Indeed, only recently I wrote about a recent study that found how it’s much easier to accept help from others, if we ourselves are willing to offer help.

A recent study suggests that another factor to consider is timing.  The researchers asked participants in the study to review a recently built social networking site for them.

Whilst undertaking this task, the participants were given two further requests, one of which was to participate in a second trial, and another to donate some money to a children’s charity.

About half of the group were led to believe that these requests were only made to them, whilst the other half were told that the requests had also been made to other members of the group.  The aim of this was to understand whether the diffusion of responsibility works in the virtual world.

“A lot of research has been done on bystander affect, especially in emergencies, with outcomes showing that the more people who are involved in a situation, the less likely an individual is to respond to a call for help,” they say.

There has been a lot of evidence to support the role of our peers in influencing our behavior online, so it is perhaps not surprising that the bystander affect was found to be strong online.

“What we found with social media was that if a request is made to you alone or to one other person, you’re more likely to respond, with social diffusion maxing out at around four people.

“So adding more people doesn’t have any effect on the likelihood you’ll receive a positive response,” the authors say.

The importance of timing

However, the researchers also found that the timing of our request seemed to have a big impact on the success of the request.

The researchers manipulated the timing of each request so that some appeared to have been made on the day, with others having been made a few days previously.

The results revealed that when a request was believed to have been made a few days ago, it was much less likely to receive any help, especially if many others were available to help.  It suggests the diffusion of responsibility also has a time element to it.

“People perhaps thought after 48 hours, a significant number of people would have seen the request and already pitched in,” the authors say.

The researchers plan on doing more research into the topic to fully explore the unique environment created by social networks, both of the public and enterprise variety.

Nevertheless, they believe these initial findings can prove useful for employees soliciting help via enterprise social networks.  They suggest that making a targeted request is much more likely to work than casting your net across the whole workplace.

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