Social Presence and CMC: The Key Concept?

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The following presentation was named as part of the Top Paper Award at the 2012 International Society for Presence Research conference in Philadelphia, held in October.

Computer-mediated communication has exploded over the last two decades. Online interaction has especially increased, seemingly exponentially, in the era of so-called social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Early theories of online interaction, such as Social Presence Theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976), suggested that it would be impersonal and not useful for relationships due to the lack of cues provided. However, other perspectives such as Social Information Processing Theory (Walther, 1992) suggest how people can form relationships even through very lean media, and has a good deal of evidence supporting it. Given the sheer amount of media interaction that takes place, anecdotally, this also makes sense. This presentation will discuss this, and will argue that establishing social presence in online interactions is the key to using technology for interpersonal relationships, and will suggest that the development/refinement of an updated social presence theory is important for the field.

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Social Presence and CMC: The Key Concept?

  1. 1. Social Presence and CMC:The Key Concept?DAVID WESTERMAN
  2. 2. POINT #1• Social Presence is a central concept to the study interpersonal communication – Why is it sometimes overlooked? – A Theory of Social Presence is central to IP Theory
  3. 3. POINT #2• The issue of explication• The classic treatment – Social Presence Theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976) – “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships” (p. 65) – “we are defining social presence as a quality of the medium itself” (p. 65)
  4. 4. POINT #2• The issue of explication• “Non-mediated” definitions – Lee (2004) – “a psychological state in which virtual social actors are experienced as actual social actors” (p. 45) – Actual- “something can potentially be experienced by human sensory systems without using technology” (p. 37)
  5. 5. POINT #2• The issue of explication• “Connection” definitions – Biocca, Harms, & Burgoon (2003) – SP is about feeling “connected to another person through an interface” – Electronic Propinquity – “the psychological feeling of nearness that communicators experience using different communication channels (Walther & Bazarova, 2008)
  6. 6. POINT #3• Can we be together and not “be together”? – Walther (2008) • Can visual cues impede connection? – What else does FtF offer? • Interaction • Voice matters more than face? • Feeling paid attention to?
  7. 7. POINT #3• Does twitter lead to social presence? – It depends – FtF? • Non-verbals? No • Interaction? Can be – Connection? • Yes • Para-social? Possibly
  8. 8. POINT #3• A Theory of Social Presence – A model, at least?• What leads to social presence? – Skills and channel options (TEP) – Mental Models (SIPT, Media Equation?)• What does social presence lead to? – Relational Satisfaction – Others?
  9. 9. HAD ENOUGH?• If not, feel free to contact me – david.westerman@mail.wvu.edu – @DKWesterman

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