Audience Theory:

2. Two Step Flow of Communication (active consumption)

At the same time Paul Lazarfeld recognised that a simple, linear model may not be sufficiently complex to understanding the relationship between message sent > message received. As such, in 1948 he developed the Two Step Flow model of communication, which took account of the way in which mediated messages are not directly injected into the audience, but while also subject to noise, error, feedback etc, they are also filtered through opinion leaders, those who interpret media messages first and then relay them back to a bigger audience.

As Martin Moore suggests, ‘people’s political views are not, as contemporaries thought, much changed by what they read or heard in the media. Voters were far more influenced by their friends, their families and their colleagues’ (2019:124).

Think for example, of the role of the journalist or broadcaster whose job it is to inform the public. Think further about the role of key individuals in society, teachers, doctors, trade union leaders, your boss at work, parents, friends and family all of whom are capable of exerting an influence on the process of communication, making it subject to bias, interpretation, rejection, amplification, support and change.

What is significant here is that this theory suggests that the audience are ACTIVE NOT PASSIVE, in that audience consumption is based on consideration of what others think not a PASSIVE process of unthinking consumption.

Activity: Can you identify some opinion leaders? Think of social influencers. Once you have identified 2 opinion leaders, see if you can identify an idea or product that they seem to be endorsing. Can you identify a positive or negative reaction to their endorsement? Look for example, in the comments section (which is a ‘feedback loop’). Does this help to give you a better understanding of the 2 Step Flow of Communication?

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