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Social Presence and Persuasion

According to Social Presence Theory, social presence is the degree of the quality of “being there” between two communicators using a communication medium. Media have different levels of social presence. Certain media have a higher degree of social presence, or the feeling of being in person with the other communicator. For example, video is generally considered to have high social presence while audio has little social presence. Media that has a high degree of social presence are considered more sociable, warm, and personal than those with low degree of social presence. In video, the viewer can see the speaker’s face, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other stimuli that affect perception in much the same way as if the two were present in the same place. Audio alone is like speaking to someone via the telephone; one has to imagine the other’s face and does not experience other stimuli that may affect the message.

This theory is important given that persuasion may occur from some distance or in person. However, the delivery mode used is affected by one’s ability to “be there.” However, if the communicants are in the same place at the same time, it opens the door to several other phenomena that influence perception and persuasion. These can include dress, smell, and the environment generally. I elaborate on this in a later chapter.


Given the impact that a tool’s capabilities have on design relative to a given medium, assessment needs to explicitly integrate such considerations. Recognizing the differences in the capabilities of different media and different tools helps consider how they may be used to design instructional materials that affect cognition. Part of the rhetorical situation is choosing which medium or media to use to design a message. This decision frames the design of the message itself; consequently, this is an important framing principle of the model.

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