In mass communication theory, the two-step flow model believes that the diffusion of information goes through opinion leaders to reach an audience (Mr. Sinn, 2020). According to Britannica, opinion leaders pick up information from the media, and this information then gets passed on to less-active members of the public. This implies that most people receive information from opinion leaders through interpersonal communication rather than directly from mass media (Postelnicu, 2016). These opinion leaders have had many different occupations since the emergence of the theory, but in today’s society, politicians, influencers, bloggers, and even talk show hosts can be considered opinion leaders.
Broadcast journalists, talk show hosts, and TV personalities are prominent opinion leaders today because they have an established platform where they can provide local and national news coverage, updates, and opinions. Most of the content that is covered by these opinion leaders are around politics and current events, and can be broadcasted on major news networks. The public receives this information believing that it is the truth of the matter when it may not be. This helps with the spread of misinformation around our government and politicians, and reinforces the idea behind the two-step flow model. In other words, there are many members of society who help with creating and spreading “fake news.”
I’m not one to heavily rely on major news networks, such as Fox News or CNN, for my political news intake because I’m aware of the TV personalities who have air time (or even their own segment) and strictly provide opinions over facts. However, I’ve been around friends and family members who do rely on these opinion leaders for their daily news coverage, which has revealed the two-step flow theory right before my eyes. I try to listen, read, and research about politics, and don’t necessarily share those findings with others in fear of spreading misinformation.
But I do definitely play a role in the two-step flow theory, just not with politics.
When it comes to pop-culture updates, fashion news, and beauty/skin care products, I’m the first share any new findings I receive with those around me. TikTok is a great source for me to find out about new make-up products and how to perfect my skin care routine. I should be receiving this kind of information from professionals in those industries however, I usually find out about the newest product to buy through social media influencers or from everyday people. Once I purchase these items and find out if it’s helpful for my own body, I publicize this information in my group messages, on my social media platforms, and through word of mouth. I’m finding out about the “best” products from opinion leaders on social media, and then spreading the information to those around me.
Opinion leaders have the capability to create false narratives for the public. Political opinion leaders who influence certain audience members through a media platform can widen the gap between political parties and people. Social media opinion leaders (influencers) can easily influence virtual communities to buy certain products. Is my role in the two-step flow model hurtful to society or widening any sort of gap? I’d like to think not, but I’m definitely reinforcing the idea around the theory.
So what does the two-step flow theory reveal to society? Opinion leaders influence others who are less attentive to those media communications (Valente, 2010). This can greatly impact how mass media influences decision making and how messages can impact the public. It’s important to know where you’re getting your information from and who you’re spreading it to to avoid being an opinion leader or culprit in any facet of any industry.
Postelnicu, M. (2016, November 28). Two-step flow model of communication. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/two-step-flow-model-of-communication
Sinn (Director). (2020, January 22). Two step Flow Theory: Media theories [Video file]. Retrieved May 23, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGJi9KbQYiM
Valente, T. (2010, January). The Messenger is the Medium: Communication and Diffusion Principles in the Process of Behavior Change. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Mass-media-influence-opinion-leaders-who-in-turn-influence-others_fig2_47297159