AS English Language: ENB2 Language and Technology
“SOCIAL PRESENCE” & “MEDIA RICHNESS”
There are two important theories or concepts that explain why we might choose to use a particular type of media
for communication (such as email, SMS Texts, Message Boards, etc):
- Social presence
- Media richness.
SOCIAL PRESENCE THEORY
Social presence is about how far the technical medium acts to “convey” the “presence” of those
participating in its use – the “feeling” that real people are “there”.
In mediated communication where face-to-face contact is not possible, the absence of non-verbal
communication (body language, etc.) acts to reduce “social presence”.
Theorists such as Short, et al, (1976, p65) suggest the use of social presence theory for analysing mediated
“We hypothesize that communications media vary in their degree of social presence, and
that these variations are important in determining the way individuals interact.”
MEDIA RICHNESS THEORY
Media richness is the ability of information to change understanding within a time interval.
It is measured by its capacity for multiple cues and immediate feedback.
The idea of “media richness” was put forward by two other theorists, Daft and Lengel (1986, p560). They
suggest effective communication is related to the appropriate choice of medium: “lean” media are better for
simple task related messages, whereas “face-to-face” is more effective for socially sensitive and complex
“CMC” – Computer Mediated Communication
Computer-mediated communication can be seen to be:
low in social presence
lean in media richness.
However, the reduced social cues, and the absence of non-verbal content may be compensated by overt
social-emotional expression (Hiltz and Turoff, 1978) and increased verbal immediacy (Walther, 1992;
“USES AND GRATIFICATIONS THEORY”
The “Uses and gratification theory” proposed by media studies theorists Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch in 1974
suggests that an audience uses media (including computer media such as the Internet and email) for various
purposes and that this explains the choice of communication media in terms of the satisfaction of recognized
needs and desires.
What kinds of gratification does the audience obtain from the media? Research suggests four:
1. ‘Diversion’ – when the media is used to divert our attention away from the pressures of everyday life – a
means of ‘escape’ from stress.
2. ‘Personal Relationships’ – where the media helps with friendship, either a feeling towards television or
radio characters, or through conversations with friends about shared media experiences.
3. ‘Personal Identity’ – perhaps especially as we grow up, our sense of identity (who we feel we are) can be
confused – the media can provide us with confirmation that we are ‘okay’ as we compare character’s lives
with our own. In this way the media allow us to compare, explore, re-affirm or question our sense of
4. ‘Surveillance’ – where the media allows us to survey or ‘keep an eye on’ our world and what is happening
in it – the media are a source of information and knowledge.
Theorists have found face-to-face communication was preferred to CMC for all social motives except for
pleasure. Two theorists, Clark and Brennan (1990) have identified eight factors that constrain media choice:
- co-presence - simultaneity
- visibility - sequentiality
- audibility - review-ability
- co-temporality - revisability
Trevino (1987) found media choice in organizations was influenced by:
- ambiguity of the message - symbolic cues in the medium
- richness of the medium - situational determinants.