Let Me See You One, Two-Step Flow Theory

My screen time averages about 8 hours each day. It’s a lot! And most of that is spent scrolling through social media.

My parents used to tell me I needed to look up from my phone and keep up with the news and current events. Their argument is entirely valid. I should know what is going on around me.

While a student in undergrad, I hardly ever paid attention to the news. There would be a hurricane coming towards the state of Florida, and the first time I would hear about it was when the University would send an email cancelling classes for the day. It was not until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020, that I started actively watching the news and searching out news stories on social media. I used to think that the news had to be consumed by reading a newspaper or watching a news channel.

Credit: Giphy

I soon realized that is not necessarily true. These days, I absorb much of my news through scrolling and scanning my social media feed.

Currently, I am a graduate student studying mass communication. The way media and news spread between individuals is of interest to me. I recently learned of the two-step flow theory. The two-step flow theory is a model by Paul Lazarsfeld that took off in the 1940s. It was used to explain the influence presidential candidates had on the ballot during an election year.

Image from media-studies.com

Essentially, this theory “believes that information is passed through opinion leaders before reaching the audience”. Mass media is reaching opinion leaders. Opinion leaders then decide what to share or pass the information along to their trusted followers. Is there someone you look up to trust and follow-on social media? They may be an opinion leader, and you didn’t realize it. Opinion leaders do not just need to be people of political power or news presenters. You may be familiar with the term “social media influencer” or “micro-influencer.” These are opinion leaders. And arguably more relevant with today’s younger audience.

You can also be an opinion leader among your friends and family. I know I am! When I scroll through social media, I often will share or send the information to people who I care about or would relate to the news. For example, when news broke that Betty White passed away only several weeks before her birthday, I was extremely heartbroken by the news. I quickly shared the Twitter post with all my friends.

Screenshot of Breaking News Tweet

This time last year, I was constantly checking the news and monitoring social media for updated vaccine requirements, so I could share the news with my parents and weigh-in on which vaccine they should receive and how to schedule the appointment. The following post by Pfizer is an example of a post I would have shared with my parents.

Screenshot of Pfizer Facebook Post

I always used to make the excuse I didn’t want to keep up with the news, because everything I was saying was negative and somewhat depressing. During the summer of 2020, the news was always upsetting. Everything being reported was hard to listen to. I found the web series, Some Good News, with John Krasinski early in the pandemic. It truly brightened my day, having a familiar face share some of the good that was going on in the world. It was the daily news dosage I needed! In this instance, I was part of the masses, and not acting as the opinion leader. Actor John Krasinski was choosing what bits and pieces of the media to share with the masses. I have linked the first episode of Some Good News with John Krasinski below for your viewing enjoyment.

YouTube Channel: Some Good News

Can you identify an opinion leader in your life? Why do you trust their opinion?

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Ali Cozzolino-Smith

Ali Cozzolino-Smith

University of Florida Advertising Student