There have been no shortage of research projects over the past few years that have attempted to glean insights from the vast amount of social data emitted from various social networks. Most of these projects have attempted to mine that data to discover trends that will allow them to predict what is to come better than existing methods.
A new study has taken a slightly different tact however, and has instead tried to gain some behavioural insights from social data. The study has mined data from the social news platform Reddit to try and determine if there are any lessons we can learn from the site when it comes to asking for favours.
Central to the study was the Random Acts of Pizza section on the site, whereby members leave messages requesting a pizza from others. If the story itself is compelling enough, then they might well do enough to earn their lunch.
The researchers wanted to explore if there were particular kinds of requests that were successful, and indeed if any wider lessons could be learned from that. To undertake their exploration, they trawled through the entire history of the site from December 2010 to September 2013, during which time over 21,000 posts were made to the Pizza section.
In addition to this, they also analyzed the total number of posts made by anyone that had posted a request in the pizza section, which added another 1.85 million of so posts to the mix.
After stripping out the requests that had been fulfilled, they were left with a total of 5,738 requests, with 379 having an identifiable benefactor.
After mulling through various features of each request, the team managed to build an algorithm that could predict success approximately 70% of the time. It emerged that the narrative used by the member was incredibly important, with five key types emerging.
They discovered that requests would often contain stories revolving around money, a job, being a student, family or friends/celebrations.
Of these five, the most successful were found to include stories involving jobs, family or money. The latter two were nowhere near as successful, with student based stories having a neutral impact, but the friends/celebration based stories actually reducing the odds of earning a pizza. In other words therefore, the story needed to clearly communicate a need. What’s more, evidence of some form of prior reciprocation was found to help.
The final factor influencing matters was the status of the requester. Those with high karma scores, or alternatively higher informal status within the sub-community were found to be much more likely to achieve success.
So, if you want to be successful with a request, Reddit would suggest you need to:
- Communicate a clear need
- Show that you will pay things back in future
- Have the respect of the community
- Turn all of this into a compelling narrative