Two-step flow theory is the idea that the flow of information and influence from the mass media to their audiences involves two steps: from the media to certain individuals and from them to the public. The mass media circulates a story, idea, or agenda and opinion leaders consume that messaging and then pass that idea to the rest of society. Seems like something super complex right? Wrong. You, your mother, your best friend, your teachers, and even I participate in this theory actively on a daily basis. To understand how this happens let's dissect all the players/steps involved in the two-step flow.
Mass Media Messaging
Mass media refers to media technologies used to disseminate information to a wide audience. Information or messages can be passed to an audience through television, movies, advertising, radio, the internet, magazines, and newspapers. The media uses its large platforms across a plethora of mediums to send out a message deemed important. Examples of this would be all of the news coverage on Coronavirus. We see it on TV during news segments, or some of our favorite shows include it as part of the storyline. We all remember the advertisements that started with “in these unprecedented times” they flooded the internet, our television programming, and they even developed radio versions of the ads. The media wanted to ensure that all of society got the message that Covid was actively happening and causing a pandemic.
Opinion leaders can be considered any individual who is initially exposed to specific media content. These leaders interpret the message based on their own opinions. These opinions are formed from personal life experiences at school, work, or even home. These leaders absorb the messages from the mass media then recast and reinterpret the messages sharing them with the public. Examples of opinion leaders could be politicians, your parents, a teacher you look up to, a friend, or a sibling. Opinion leaders are people in your life who influence you or whose words/opinions you value.
When it comes to the public’s role in this theory, they are the members of society who absorb the Opinion Leaders’ feedback on the media messaging. They are the people most influenced by these leaders and continue to spread the message with the leaders' perspective woven in. Examples of the public would be Parents' children or Teachers’ students. They are a larger chunk of society who is a bit impressionable, or willing to accept a leader's message because of how much they entrust that person. More often than not they will not fact-check the information they receive from a leader.
Let's examine the above with a real-life example. As a millennial, it's no surprise that I consume most of my messaging online. Lately, there has been a lot of talk on student loans. Should they be canceled, will that hurt the economy, etc. With all of this news on student loans across multiple mediums, it was no surprise that my favorite tik toker, use her platform to complain and influence her followers about how predatory student loans. Because she's my favorite influencer I found VALUE in her OPINION. The media highlighted the ongoing messaging around the debate on canceling student loans and an opinion leader shared that messaging + her opinion to me, the public. Through her story on social media, I understand her point (the message she shared) and am also convinced that student loans are predatory.