Virtual strategic positioning to create social presence: reporting on the use of a telepresence robot
This qualitative cross disciplinary research examined to what degree social presence was achieved through the use of a telepresence robot by one of the authors, in her capacity as a keynote speaker at an international research symposium. We explored if and how social presence was a factor in her ability to strategically position herself as a notable researcher whilst in ‘telepresence mode’, with the aim of understanding whether one could exercise the same degree of agency in telepresence mode as compared to appearing in person. We were also interested to know how those attending the symposium experienced having a tele present delegate in their midst. The research used an analytic framework based on Hassenzahl’s (2014) ideas of “experience design” and his des cription of the “user experience” and evaluated the tele present person’s ability to strategically position in a virtual environment by applying the analytical lens of Positioning Theory (Harré van Langenhove, 1999).
Findings indicated it is possible to establish a high degree of social presence whilst in telepresence mode. This relates to both the telepresence robot product and the phenomenon of telepresence as experienced by the user and symposium attendees. However, while the user was able to position herself successfully all indicators were that social competencies also played a significant role in her being able to interact in telepresence mode. Attending international conferences using telepresence robots is potentially attractive for economic and ti me saving reasons, but little is understood about how delegates experience telepresence and whether conference attendance objectives can be achieved. We demonstrate how social presence is achieved both through the capabilities of the telepresence robot, bu t also through a combination of the amount of symbolic capital possessed by the user and the user’s social competencies. This has implications for decision making in terms of who is likely to be able to successfully operate in tele present mode at such events.