Social Presence Theory

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Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Perception of social presence/immediacy, intimacy

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Interactivity, social factors, media characteristics

Concise description of theory

Social presence theory explores how the "sense of being with another" is influenced by digital interfaces in human-computer interactions.[2] The theory was developed from the foundations of interpersonal communication and symbolic interactionism. It can be defined as, “the degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships” (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976). Media usually rely on various linguistic and non-verbal cues to transmit information, and media with more cues often indicate a stronger social presence. The theory notes that computer-based communication is lower in social presence than face-to-face communication, but different computer-based communications can affect the levels of social presence between communicators and receivers. Research on social presence theory has recently developed to examine the efficacy of telecommunications media, including SNS communications. Human characteristics like social relationships (Han, Min, & Lee, 2015), personalized greetings (Gefen & Straub, 2003), emotional words with images (Hassanein & Head, 2005) have been found to positively influence social presence, while interactivity and social presence have an inverted-U relationship.[3]


Diagram/schematic of theory



Originating author(s)

  • John Short
  • Ederyn Williams
  • Bruce Christie

Seminal article(s)

  1. Short, John; Williams, Ederyn; Christie, Bruce (1976). The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. London: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. ISBN 978-0471015819.
  2. Walther, J. B. (1995). Relational aspects of computer-mediated communication: Experimental observations over time. Organization science, 6(2), 186-203.
  3. Gunawardena, C. N., & Zittle, F. J. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer‐mediated conferencing environment. American journal of distance education, 11(3), 8-26.

Originating area

Communication, sociology

Level of analysis


Links from this theory to other theories

Symbolic Interactionism

IS articles that use the theory

  1. Hess, Traci J.; Fuller, Mark; and Campbell, Damon E. (2009) "Designing Interfaces with Social Presence: Using Vividness and Extraversion to Create Social Recommendation Agents," Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(12), DOI: 10.17705/1jais.00216
  2. Cyr, D., Head, M., Larios, H., & Pan, B. (2009). Exploring human images in website design: a multi-method approach. MIS quarterly, 539-566.
  3. Zhu, L., Benbasat, I., & Jiang, Z. (2010). Let's shop online together: An empirical investigation of collaborative online shopping support. Information Systems Research, 21(4), 872-891.
  4. Lowry, P. B., Zhang, D., Zhou, L., & Fu, X. (2010). Effects of culture, social presence, and group composition on trust in technology‐supported decision‐making groups. Information Systems Journal, 20(3), 297-315.
  5. Miranda, S. M., & Saunders, C. S. (2003). The social construction of meaning: An alternative perspective on information sharing. Information systems research, 14(1), 87-106.
  6. Sia, C. L., Tan, B. C., & Wei, K. K. (2002). Group polarization and computer-mediated communication: Effects of communication cues, social presence, and anonymity. Information Systems Research, 13(1), 70-90.
  7. Zhang, D., Lowry, P. B., Zhou, L., & Fu, X. (2007). The impact of individualism—collectivism, social presence, and group diversity on group decision making under majority influence. Journal of Management Information Systems, 23(4), 53-80.


[1] Webpage:

[2] Webpage: Social presence theory - Wikipedia (

[3] Wu, C., Huang, S., & Qinjian, Y. (2022). Seven important theories in information system empirical research: A systematic review and future directions. Data and Information Management, 6(1), 100006.


Anusree K P - Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, India

Date last updated

25 August, 2023