Whether you follow a media influencer on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, these social media users are working to share relevant information to their followers. What influencers are doing can be interpreted as the two-step flow theory commonly known in mass communications. This theory was first used in a book about the 1940 voting study. In the two step-flow theory, influencers or opinion leaders find information first from the media. They collect, interpret, and diffuse the meaning of media messages then share it to their followers or less-active media consumers. The theory implies that most people receive information from opinion leaders rather than directly from mass media.
Personally, I have a select few media influencers that I trust and agree with. I follow their posts in order to stay up to date with relevant information. Rather than being an opinion leader and sharing for myself, I tend to be an information follower. It’s rare that I share information that I didn’t get from an influencer first. Am I out of the ordinary for this? The answer is no. In fact, Pew Research Center found that about half of U.S. adults (53%) say they get news from social media “often” or “sometimes”.
One example of news gathering explained by the two-step flow theory comes from 2012 when a popular video about the Kony campaign was released to raise awareness for Invisible Children, although severely criticized by experts and journalists. In the first five days, the campaign gained 120 million views. The video rose to success after Bill Gates and Rihanna shared it. Their influential status helped coin the video as the most viral video of all time. As a teenager, I remember watching this video and immediately donating to the non-profit (clearly how I get information hasn’t changed).
The two-step flow of information allows us to continue explaining the process in which many of us get information through social media.