The Theory of Social Presence

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  • 0:00 Social Presence
  • 0:59 Forms of Communication
  • 2:50 Significance of Social…
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How do we form online communities? How do we interact with people we never meet? These questions are amongst those addressed by the theory of social presence. Explore this and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Social Presence

Hi there. How are you? Nice weather we're having, isn't it? See what I'm doing here? I'm trying to establish a personal connection with you. This may seem kind of strange; I mean you don't really know me, and I don't know you, but we are communicating. Granted, it's a pretty one-way conversation, but you are aware that I'm a real person. At least I hope so. The way that we interact we each other in the digital age has been a source of fascination for many researchers, especially in terms of online communication. How do we know we are talking to other people without face-to-face communication? How do we present ourselves, how do we form relationships, how do we build communities with people we'll never physically meet? At its most basic, social presence theory is the awareness that you are communicating with another person. So how does this work? Well, let's talk about it.

Forms of Communication

Now, social presence theory is really focused on online communication, but the idea behind it is not just limited to the Internet. How do we create awareness of personal interaction without seeing somebody? The theory ranks communication in various media by degrees of social presence, or by the level to which each person is aware of talking to another person. Face-to-face communication, of course, has the most social presence, with textual communication, like letter writing, having much less. Now if you've ever had a pen pal, you know that it's still completely possible to have a personal relationship with someone through writing. But, it's different than talking to someone in person. Establishing a personal connection, making the other person really aware that they are communicating with another person, takes some doing.

So, when we're talking about degrees of social presence, the difference between face-to-face communication and writing is obvious, but with technology this becomes more difficult. Television and radio allow you to see or hear another person, but the interaction is completely one-sided…kind of like this video. I can talk to you, you can hear my voice, but you really can't communicate back. Sorry! So, the amount of social presence in communication changes by the media. By the time that you add the Internet into the mix, this gets really interesting. You can watch a video of somebody, then post a comment below. While playing an online video game, dialogue and comment boxes let you communicate with other players. We leave reviews about places we've eaten, movies we've watched, games we've played. It's an entirely new world of communication, and the way that we establish our presence online is the real focus of social presence theory.

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