What is two-step flow theory?
The two-step flow theory was formulated in 1948 by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet in the book The People’s Choice, after research into voters’ decision-making processes during the 1940 U.S. presidential election (Postelnicu, 2016). It stipulates that mass media content first reaches “opinion leaders,” people who are active media users and who collect, interpret, and diffuse the meaning of media messages to less-active media consumers (Postelnicu, 2016).
According to the authors, opinion leaders pick up information from the media, and this information then gets passed on to less-active members of the public (Postelnicu, 2016). This implies that most people receive information from opinion leaders through interpersonal communication rather than directly from mass media.
Opinion leaders are individuals or organizations that are experts within an industry or otherwise have views that are both widely known and trusted (Weimann, 2015). As a result, they can influence public opinion. Today, we know opinion leaders as social media influencers, like Instagram celebrities and YouTubers (Bergstrom, 2020).
Here’s a quick video from Mr. Sinn that digs deeper into the two-step flow theory and the impact of opinion leaders:
How do I apply the two-step theory to my news gathering routines?
It’s important to note, in our everyday lives more and more people are getting their news from people they trust, such as influencers and experts in their field. Although, opinion leaders can be people that share similar beliefs and values to us, it is still important to make sure they are credible and sharing news that is truthful and authentic.
To make sure one is truthful and authentic, I always conduct research on that person that is sharing this information to see if they have any views or bias that would lead them to delivering fake news or news that is skewed. For example, as a passionate baseball fan, I wanted to know more about who was more likely to win the 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros. I read a prediction from John Smoltz, a MLB baseball broadcaster who picked the Atlanta Braves to win. After realizing he was a former player for the Atlanta Braves, I quickly knew his opinion was heavily skewed and bias.
Additionally, it’s important to know that not everything opinion leaders share is accurate and can be bias. Personally, I like to read about the same topic from different opinion leaders that share differing beliefs and values. For example, I am a big fantasy football nerd who likes to stay up to date on all things related to fantasy football. Instead of reading on what one expert recommended on which players to start, bench, and pick up, I like to read and listen to what other fantasy football experts had to recommend before making a final decision.
When it comes to sharing news, I keep this two-step flow theory in mind and make sure I have done my research to ensure that the news I am sharing is true and has all the facts to back it up. Although, most of us are not opinion leaders, we still have a responsibility to make sure that what we are delivering is accurate and non-bias. If we are questioning our information, we should take the steps necessary to conduct research to make sure we are sharing information that is truthful and accurate.
Bergstrom, G. (2020, September). What Are Opinion Leaders?. The Balance Small Business. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/who-are-opinion-leaders-and-why-do-they-matter-2295976
Postelnicu, M. (2016, November 28). Two-step flow model of communication. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/two-step-flow-model-of-communication
Weimann, G. (2015). Two-Step Flow of Communication. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/two-step-flow-of-communication