The two-step flow of communication theory is a relatively modern communication theory.
Put simply, the Two-Step Flow Theory is about how KEY PEOPLE (or influencers)affect other people.
This hypothesis was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson and Hazel Gaudet in a 1944 study (a great resource with more information on this is this book) which focused on the process of making decisions around the time of a Presidential election campaign called ‘The People’s Choice’.
The expected result was that the mass media’s messages would have a direct influence of people’s votes. However, the researchers were surprised to find out this was in fact not the case at all.
It was the personal and informal contact that had more of an impact on voting behaviour as apposed to exposure to radio or newspapers. With the results of the research, they developed the two-step flow theory of mass communication.
The Two-Step Flow Theory claims that the information we receive from the mass media moves in two stages.
- Firstly, individuals:- the opinion leaders, who take into account the media and the messages. They receive the information the mass media is outputting. Every group has an opinion leader, whether that be occupational, social, community or otherwise. The leadership may change from time to time and can change depending on the issue but they are the most influential when the interest is discussed by the group. There are two types of opinion leaders.
- The first is a monomorphic opinion leader. They are very well informed and influential on one topic. An example of this would be a colleague or friend who is a staunch follower of politics.
- Then there is the polymorphic opinion leader. They are a bit of a know it all and the leader on a variety of topics.
- These opinion leader then pass their own interpretations of the information asand the actual content the media put out, to opinion receivers/seekers.
The theory has helped with our understanding of how the media influences our decisions as well as refining our ability to predict the effects of the media’s messages on audience behaviour.