Two-Step Flow Theory: The Rise of Untraditional Opinion Leaders

Do I dare say social media has been the most influential powerhouse in mass communication in the last century?

Social media provides two-way communication for large entities, such as political figures, large corporations, etc, to discuss with smaller ones, customers, followers, etc. I don’t believe this is a phenomenon anyone, not even the creators of social media platforms, anticipated. More traditional forms (tv, newspapers, and radio) of mass communication do not provide this level of connection. However, several pivots in business models later, we’re still struggling with how to handle this as a society.

According to the Pew Research Center, a study showed one in five U.S. adults get their political news primarily through social media. Ironically, in 2019 it also found that a large percentage of adults do not look at social media as a trusted news source. In fact, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the top three least trusted. This may be a general overview, but it sets a foundation for how concepts such as “fake news” have emerged over time.

Image source here.

The Two-Step Flow theory suggests that opinion leaders pay close attention to the mass media and pass on their media interpretations to others, as explained by Brett Lamb in his YouTube video The Two-Step Flow Theory. As many could conclude, the “newsgathering” process looks very different for each generation. For those who have grown up with social media, such as myself, I have been able to filter out the social media profiles in which I trust to deliver unbiased news, in other words, the opinion leaders I trust. As a full-time student and employee, it’s difficult for me to find the time to take a daily break and watch tv. Social media provides me the opportunity to keep up while on-the-go or passively as I do other activities such as exercising. In this context, I’m an information follower.

However, I feel there is another layer to the Two-Step Flow Theory. To an extent, opinion leaders can also exist on a smaller scale within friendship circles. As I grew older and more conscious of the news, I was an opinion leader in the process of filtering out accounts to find the sources I trust. These accounts are a combination of news entities with social media accounts, news reporters, philanthropists, company leaders, etc. I have often recommended news sources to others, therefore, distributing the mass messages published on those sources even further. It’s also important to note I studied communication in undergraduate and have continued to in my Master’s, therefore, I am more likely to be conscious of the impact of mass communication and the importance of unbiased information. These additional layers are supported by a study that found published news on Twitter widely reaches people through a layer of opinion leaders, who may not be as widely known as one would think, Brett Lamb also explained in his video.

Image source here.

It’s no secret we’re more likely to trust the information and opinions of those closest to us. We generally trust the values of our friends and family, that’s why their closest to us. In an attempt to be your friend, I’ve listed a few of the social media news resources I follow below. Watch/listen/learn at your own discretion!

Instagram: @apnews, @nytimes, @washingtonpost

Podcasts: The Daily, Up First, TED Radio Hour, Today Explained

Most of these resources have accompanying Twitter and Facebook accounts, but these are the mediums I prefer.

Modernized Mobile Marketing Director | UF CJC Master’s Student