My Journal



Social Presence Theory

This theory is foundational to my own research, with my current working dissertation title being: “The Online Video Conversation: Social Presence in the Asynchronous Online Classroom.” I will detail this much further later. However, I am now giving this overview, since I am discussing Junghyun Kim’s 2003 article this/last week, and he addresses this theory therein.

Basically, developed by John Short, Ederyn Williams, and Bruce Christie in 1976, social presence theory measures communication media based on the degree of awareness of the other person in a communication interaction. In most cases, the higher the social presence level, the better the understanding of both speaker and message. The level is altered with the removal or addition of each communication modality, such as speech, non-verbal cues, and immediacy of exchange or feedback.

Kim discusses the theory, citing Walther and Burgoon (1992) in that the theory assumes that “the fewer are the channels or codes available within a medium, the less attention is paid by the user to the presence of other participants.” Also, “CMC, with its paucity of nonverbal elements and feedback cues, is said to be low in social presence in comparison to FtF communication. When social presence is lower, messages are more impersonal and unemotional.” An assumption that social presence theory and media richness (as well as media synchronicity and perhaps media naturalness) make is that the more cues received, the better the communication enjoyed. However, communication quality cannot be evaluated only from quantitative data. As noted, there can be internal and external distracters, various effects due to setting, timing, etc. Also, the cues may be false or misleading, inaccurate, or empty.

Kim, Junghyun. “Interpersonal Interaction in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) : Exploratory Qualitative Research based on Critical Review of the Existing Theories” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Marriott Hotel, San Diego, CA, May 27, 2003.