In my Media & Society class this month at Full Sail University, we are looking at the relationship between media, society and ourselves and how our experiences are altered by them.
Specifically, I researched and studied the Two-step Flow Theory, which is the idea that the media’s influence on people’s behavior is limited by opinion leaders, who are people who initially consume media content, interpret it in light of their own values and beliefs, and then pass it on to opinion followers who have less frequent contact with media.
The two-step flow theory was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet in The People’s Choice, a 1944 study focused on the process of decision-making during a Presidential election campaign. These researchers expected to find support for the direct influence of media messages on voting intentions. They were surprised to discover that informal, personal contacts were mentioned far more frequently than exposure to radio or newspaper as sources of influence on voting behavior. Armed with this data, Katz and Lazarsfeld developed the two-step flow theory of mass communication.
This theory asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages. First, individuals (opinion leaders) pays close attention to the mass media and its messages amd he then passes on his own interpretations, plays on words and his views in addition to the actual media content. Opinion leaders are very influential in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors and are quite similar to those they influence.
Here’s the question: With the relevance of social media, is this theory still relevant? Are opinion leaders still influencing individuals or is it more one-step where everyone is communicating with each other online?
Here’s the answer: Yes, the two-step theory, without a doubt, is still relevant and here’s why…
A study from Yahoo! Research “Who Says What to Whom on Twitter | Yahoo! Research” analyzed 5 billion tweets and examined the relationship between them and reported that there are about 20,000 “elite” users that are the source of 50% of Tweets ~ but they rely on a large number of intermediaries, about 500K.
“Interestingly, these results are all broadly consistent with the original conception of the two-step flow, advanced over 50 years ago, which emphasized that opinion leaders were “distributed in all occupational groups, and on every social and economic level”…
… given, in fact, that a service like Twitter was likely unimaginable at the time it is remarkable how well the theory agrees with our observations.
Study Shows How Social Media Amplifies Mass Media accessed September 18, 2011 from http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2011/03/study_shows_how_1.php
Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1955). Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communication. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.