The Medium As Important As The Message When Asking For Help

Dan Pink shared a link to a study that was conducted on perceptions of the most effective way to ask others for help comparing face-to-face, audio/phone, video (ie Zoom), and text (SMS, Email).

Previous studies had found that in-person requests were much more effective than requests delivered through other media, (thirty-four times more effective than email in one study), but there had been few studies that included people’s perceptions of how much more effective in-person might be to mediated requests.

The authors conducted two studies. In the first, they had people make requests for help in-person, through audio channels, and video channels. Those asking for a favor made predictions about their ability to get a positive response.  In the second study, in-person was removed and email was added to audio and video channels as an option. (Interestingly, text messaging wasn’t included in the study.)

In both cases, study participants greatly underestimated what the difference the different media would be. They intuited that face-to-face (FtF) would be more successful than a video or audio request, but the margin was much greater than they predicted. Likewise, they intuited a request made over voice or video would be more effective than email, but again the degree was much greater than predicted.

Given the large differences we observed in the effectiveness of FtF compared to mediated requests, and rich media compared to email requests in our behavioral studies, these findings suggest that people fail to fully appreciate the value of asking for help in-person, or in lieu of this possibility, through the richest possible communication medium.

Something to think about as we approach the end of the year donation solicitation season. How we make our appeals may matter more than we think.

Now interestingly, Pink had preceded his tweet about the best way to ask people for a favor with a tweet on a study about the best way to thank people:

In that case, the medium doesn’t matter as much. Though the article he linked to talked about some unexpected nuances about how people engage in the process of expressing appreciation.

“…while people generally expect an in-person thank-you to be most impactful, what happened in reality was quite different: Sending a thank-you over text was almost as impactful as delivering the message in person. Additionally, texting may be especially well-suited for situations where we feel awkward or embarrassed about expressing our appreciation.”


Overall, video calls were just as beneficial as meeting in person. Texting was slightly less effective than video calling—it didn’t make people feel more connected and happy, while video calling did. However, participants who sent their thanks over text still experienced benefits: Texting boosted their well-being and reduced their loneliness compared to the people who wrote about celebrities.


The researchers found that how people expressed gratitude didn’t impact how happy they felt, or how meaningful the experience was to them—nor did it impact how happy they thought the recipient felt. However, people reported that thanking someone in person (as opposed to via text) was slightly more embarrassing.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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