Tala Selo
Due: November 29th, 2018.
Two-Step Flow Theory
The two-step flow of communication model is defined as a theory of communication that proposes that interpersonal interaction has a far stronger effect on shaping public opinion than mass media outlets (Pemba, 2017). It says that most people form their opinions under the influence of opinion leaders who in turn are influenced by the mass media. In contrast to the one-step flow of the hypodermic needle model or magic bullet theory, which holds that people are directly influenced by mass media, according to the two-step flow model, ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders, and from them to a wider population. Opinion leaders pass on their own interpretation of information in addition to the actual media content. The two-step model says that most people are not directly influenced by mass media, and instead form their opinions based on opinion leaders who interpret media messages and put them into context. Opinion leaders are those initially exposed to a specific media content, and who interpret it based on their own opinion. They then begin to infiltrate these opinions through the general public who become seen as opinion followers. These opinion leaders gain their influence through more elite media as opposed to mainstream mass media. In this process social influence is created and adjusted by the ideals and opinions of each specific elite media group, and by these media group’s opposing ideals and opinions and in combination with popular mass media sources (Hannan, 2011). Therefore, the leading influence in these opinions is primarily a social persuasion. Moreover, the two-step flow theory has improved our understanding of how the mass media influence decision making. The theory refined the ability to predict the influence of media messages on audience behavior, and it helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes a behavior. Based on the two-step flow hypothesis, the term personal influence came to illustrate the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s reaction to that message (Chaiko, 2012). Opinion leaders tend to be similar to those they influence based on personality, interests, demographics, or socio-economic factors. These leaders tend to influence others to change their attitudes and behaviors. The two-step theory refined the ability to predict how media messages influence audience behavior and explains why certain media campaigns do not alter audiences’ attitudes. This hypothesis provided a basis for the two-step flow theory of mass communication.

One of the first to embark on Communications research, was the first to introduce the difference between administrative research and critical research in regard to the media. Critical research he believed, criticizes the media institutions themselves for the perspective ways they serve dominant social groups. Critical research favors interperspective and inductive methods of inquiry. During the research revealed information about the psychological and social processes that influence voting decisions. The study uncovered an influence process that Lazarsfeld called opinion leadership. He concluded that there is a multistep flow of information from the mass media to persons who serve as opinion leaders which then is passed on to the general public. He called this communication process the two-step flow of communication. The two-step flow of communication hypothesis 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 (Katz ; Lazarsfeld, 1955). These researchers were expected to find empirical support for the direct influence of media messages on voting intentions. According to the researchers, mass media information is channeled to the masses through opinion leadership. The people with most access to media, and having a more literate understanding of media content, explain and diffuse the content to others. They were surprised to discover that informal and personal contacts were mentioned far more frequently than exposure to radio or newspaper as sources of influence on voting behavior. With the help of this, 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 who are also called opinion leaders, pay close attention to the mass media and its messages receive the information. The term personal influence was coined to refer to the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s ultimate reaction to that message. Furthermore, the two-step hypothesis does not adequately describe the flow of learning. Everett Rogers, “Diffusion of Innovations”, cites one study, in which two-thirds of respondents accredited their awareness to the mass media rather than face-to-face communication (Zhang, 2015). Critics argue that most of Lazarsfeld’s findings pertain to learning factors involved with general media habits rather than the learning of particular information. However, Lazarsfeld’s two-step hypothesis is an adequate description to understand the media’s influence on belief and behavior. Troldahl finds that media exposure is a first step to introduce discussion, at which point opinion leaders initiate the second-step flow. If a person is exposed to new observations that are inconsistent with present beliefs, he or she is thrown into imbalance. This person will then seek advice from their opinion leader, to provide them with additional cognitions to bring them back into balance. In addition, this theory may be valid during the era when opinion leaders were the only ones to have easy access to media contents (Nunes, 2017). Today, there is a free flow of information so that anybody could have access to media contents without relying substantially on opinion leaders. Empirical research that analyzes vast databases from communication flows in social media finds that today’s digital media landscape simultaneously facilitates one-step, two-step and more complex multi-step flow models of communication. For example, in Twitter networks it is no contradiction that average Twitter users mainly mention intermediating opinion leaders in their tweets, while at the same time traditional mass media outlets receive most of their mentions directly through a direct one-step flow from the same users (Hilbert, Vasquez, and Halpern, 2016). This shows that the two-step model does not seem to be dead, nor obsolete, but simply one of several ways’ communication flows in modern networks. Limitations include flow of information, flow of influence is intersecting, it is more complex, and it acquires more than two steps in the flow of communication. The two-step process presents some benefits to a community with limited access to information. One such benefit is that it enables those members of the community who have limited access to media information to also gain insight about occurrences that are happening in the world around them. For instance, those members without television and radio sets can learn about developments in the nationwide political landscape from their opinion leader. Thus, increasing media information access in communities. More so on has to note that some members of the community have limited interest or competence in understanding certain information such as political rhetoric in media information. Lazarsfield (1944) posits that media information is mediated through our social relationship (Katz, 1944). For fifty years, the research organization Roper has considered the group of influentials important enough to track. Regularly, reports and studies are performed in an attempt to unlock the secret to reaching these influentials. According to Diane Crispell, these people are the “thought leaders” and “pioneer consumers”. “Influentials are better educated and more affluent than the average American, but it is their interest in the world around them and their belief that they can make a difference that makes them influential (Crispell, 1989).” Robinson (1976) asserts that, “Opinion leaders are different from followers because of their social position or status or by virtue of their greater interest in the topic at hand (Robinson, 1976).”
One can assert that the two-step theory was a revolutionary way of viewing mass communication. It was a was a pivotal divergence from the hypodermic needle perspective, it propagated a new perspective information that emphasized personal relationships between members of the audience and the media. Although the empirical methods behind the two-step flow of communication were not perfect, the theory did provide a very believable explanation for information flow. The opinion leaders do not replace media, but rather guide discussions of media. Brosius explains the benefits of the opinion leader theory well in his 1996 study of agenda setting, “The opinion leaders should not be regarded as replacing the role of interpersonal networks but, in fact, as reemphasizing the role of the group and interpersonal contacts” (Brosius, 1996). Lazarsfeld and his associates detailed five characteristics of personal contact that give their theory more validity: non-purposiveness/casualness, flexibility to counter resistance, trust, and persuasion without conviction (NJUGUNA, ?2012). The theory is two-stepped in the sense that it presents opinion leaders as direct recipients of information from the Mass Media and then they forward this information to the general public with their personal interpretation. Communication experts came out with a conclusion that human behavior and thoughts are not changed y just merely getting the message. It takes so much time as this process it too slow and it is transmitted by the opinion leader. Therefore, researchers of mass communication cannot treat the public as a homogenous mass audience that actively processes and responds to media messages uniformly. This theory has improved our understanding of how mass media influence decision making.

Robinson (1976). “Agendas for a Public Union or for Private Communities? How Individuals Are Using media to Reshape American Society,” chapter 15 in Maxwell McCombs.

Lazarsfeld, P. (1944). The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York: Columbia University Press.

Brosius, HB. (1996). “Who Sets the Agenda Agenda-Setting as a Two-Step Flow”.
Wambuinjuguna, S. (2012) Investigation into the impact of the Public Relations in achieving school cohesion in public universities.”
Crispell, Diane. (1989). “The Influentials. Consumers who influence America. American Demographics,” v11, n3, p12.
Hilbert, Vasquez, and Halpern. (2016). “One Step, Two Step, Network Step? Complementary Perspectives on Communication Flows in Twittered Citizen Protests.”
Nunes, RH. (2017). “The effects of social media opinion leaders’ recommendations on followers’ intention to buy.”
Zhang, X. (2015). “Using diffusion of innovation theory…  primary care clinic”
Lazarsfeld & Katz. (1955). “The People Choice” How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hannan, G. (2011). The Dominant Paradigm.