Elihu Katz, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Gabriel Tarde have already said that media are profoundly social. Newspapers have been read at breakfast for almost 200 years. Our great-great-grandparents discussed the news of 1848 revolutions in Europe or of the Mexican wars with their buddies at lunch time. Television shows were and still are the subject of the proverbial water cooler chats. Every once in a while I chat with my wife about the latest news we both get from Yahoo!
What is then new about ”social” media?
Can media be other than social? As Gabriel Tarde and later Lazarsfeld and his students suggested, media is consumed through a two (or manybe more) step process. The news percolates and then returns to the newsmakers through interpersonal conversations. If that is so, did social media really bring something new to the table? If, yes, what? The tools? A new social and intellectual ethos? Is this a communitarian, or individualist ethos? Is the ”social” aspect of media equivalent to ”communitarianism”? What perspective should we take on studying interactions through social media: a community or an individualistic oriented one?
A summary of the two step flow theory of communication from the Twente University Comm Theory site:
The two-step flow of communication hypothesis was first introduced by Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet in The People’s Choice, a 1944 study focused on the process of decision-making during a Presidential election campaign. These researchers expected to find empirical support for the direct influence of media messages on voting intentions. They were surprised to discover, however, that informal, personal contacts were mentioned far more frequently than exposure to radio or newspaper as sources of influence on voting behavior. Armed with this data, Katz and Lazarsfeld developed the two-step flow theory of mass communication.
This theory asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages. First, individuals (opinion leaders) who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages receive the information. Opinion leaders pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content. The term ‘personal influence’ was coined to refer to the process intervening between the media’s direct message and the audience’s ultimate reaction to that message. Opinion leaders are quite influential in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors and are quite similar to those they influence. The two-step flow theory has improved our understanding of how the mass media influence decision making. The theory refined the ability to predict the influence of media messages on audience behavior, and it helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes an behavior. The two-step flow theory gave way to the multi-step flow theory of mass communication or diffusion of innovation theory.
Two step flow readings
The hypothesis that “ideas often flow from radio and print to opinion leaders and from these to the less active sections of the population” has been tested in several successive studies. Each study has attempted a different solution to the problem of how to take account of interpersonal relations in the traditional design of survey research. As a result, the original hypothesis is largerly corroborated and considerably refined.
For some theorists, talk about politics is infrequent, difficult, divisive, and, to be efficacious, must proceed according to special rules in protected spaces. We, however, examined ordinary political conversation in common spaces, asking Americans how freely and how often they talked about 9 political and personal topics at home, work, civic organizations, and elsewhere. Respondents felt free to talk about all topics. Most topics were talked about most frequently at home and at work, suggesting that the electronic cottage is wired to the public sphere. Political conversation in most loci correlated significantly with opinion quality and political participation, indicating that such conversation is a vital component of actual democratic practice, despite the emphasis given to argumentation and formal deliberation by some normative theorists.
Gabriel Tarde (l843-1904) is thought to have “lost” his debates with Durkheim by insisting that sociology ought to occupy itself with observable interpersonal processes. Given contemporary interest in such processes—much abetted by the computer—Tarde’s reputation is being rehabilitated. Terry Clark (1969) was first to notice that Tarde (1898) had anticipated Lazarzfeld’s two-step flow of communication. Tarde’s work has bearing on social networks, interpersonal influence, diffusion of innovation, and the aggregation of public opinion.
Elihu Katz. Media Multiplication and social segmentation. Elihu Katz. Media Multiplication and Social Segmentation,” Ethical Perspectives,
7:2-3, 2000, 122-132.
The paper develop the idea of the classic public sphere, drawing not so much on Habermas, but on some of his predecessors and others, and especially on the French social psychologist, Gabriel Tarde. I will show how Tarde’s conception of the public sphere applies not only to the newspaper but perhaps even more to broadcasting. I will say a few words about how well the European model of public broadcasting fits (or better: used to fit) this vision of the public sphere. I will also introduce data from a recent American study that puts Tarde’s scheme to an empirical test. Then, I will shift gears. Still drawing on Tarde — but a different Tarde — Part Two will show another side of the same story, focusing more on the technology of the media, and their effect, not on individuals but on institutions. This part of the argument will show how the media, in succession — newspapers, radio, TV, internet — contribute not to the making of democracy, but to its unmaking. This part will lead to a discussion of our present situation of multi-channel television — over the air, on cable, via satellite — and the internet. To anticipate the climax of this part, let me say that we will find ourselves arguing that the new media are no longer geared to the nation-state and the public sphere. The concluding Part Three will try to confront the opposing tendencies of the two earlier parts. But it will do so in an academic effort at puzzlesolving rather than as a statement of deep conviction. The truth is I don’t know the answers.
From two-step flow to the Internet: The changing array of sources for genetic…
Donald O. Case; J. David Johnson; James E. Andrews; Suzanne L. Allard; Kimber…
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology; Jun 2004; 55, 8;
“From Two-Step Flow to the Internet: The Changing Array of Sources for Genetics Information Seeking” reevaluates the traditional two-step flow of information seeking by examining cancer genetic information seeking in the Internet environment. The two-step flow is where a person obtains information second-hand from friends and acquaintances who, in a first step, have previously obtained the same information from some other source. The researchers conducted a telephone survey in Kentucky, via random digital dialing, reaching 2,454 people, of whom 882 adults (41%) agreed to be polled. Respondents reported using the Internet first for cancer genetic information, then public libraries, and then medical doctors. The paper concludes that the Internet has changed the traditional two-step flow hypothesis of information seeking.
Some of the comments below ask the very good question “how real is the distinction between interpersonal and mass mediated influence in social media”? In addition, some social diffusion studies have started asking the bigger question that lurks behind this literature: how does social media (Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube) change the way we think and learn about the world?
A very recent study facilitated by Facebook Data, an internal research unit of the social networking giant, announced this spring that most news we pick up and read from Facebook comes from people we interact with infrequently. A previous study, also co-authored by Bakshy, asked the even more interesting question if there are real “opinion” leaders on Twitter. The answer was a considerate yes and no. What do you think about these studies and their conclusions?
Rethinking Information Diversity in Networks, Eytan Bakshy, Facebook Data
Everyone’s an Influencer: Quantifying Influence on Twitter, Bakshy et al.
Threshold models have been postulated as one explanation for the success or failure of collective action and the diffusion of innovations. The present paper creates a social network threshold model of the diffusion of innovations based on the Ryan and Gross (1943) adopter categories: (1) early adopters; (2) early majority; (3) late majority; (4) laggards. This new model uses social networks as a basis for adopter categorization, instead of solely relying on the system-level analysis used previously. The present paper argues that these four adopter categories can be created either with respect to the entire social system, or with respect to an individual’s personal network. This dual typology is used to analyze three diffusion datasets to show how external influence and opinion leadership channel the diffusion of innovations. Network thresholds can be used (1) to vary the definition of behavioral contagion, (2) to predict the pattern of diffusion of innovations, and (3) to identify opinion leaders and followers in order to understand the two-step flow hypothesis better.
The wealth of research into modelling and forecasting the diffusion of innovations is impressive and confirms its continuing importance as a research topic. The main models of innovation diffusion were established by 1970. (Although the title implies that 1980 is the starting point of the review, we allowed ourselves to relax this constraint when necessary.) Modelling developments in the period 1970 onwards have been in modifying the existing models by adding greater flexibility in various ways. The objective here is to review the research in these different directions, with an emphasis on their contribution to improving on forecasting accuracy, or adding insight to the problem of forecasting.
The main categories of these modifications are: the introduction of marketing variables in the parameterisation of the models; generalising the models to consider innovations at different stages of diffusions in different countries; and generalising the models to consider the diffusion of successive generations of technology.
We find that, in terms of practical impact, the main application areas are the introduction of consumer durables and telecommunications.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) the efforts of many authors, few research questions have been finally resolved. For example, although there is some convergence of ideas of the most appropriate way to include marketing mix-variables into the Bass model, there are several viable alternative models.
Future directions of research are likely to include forecasting new product diffusion with little or no data, forecasting with multinational models, and forecasting with multi-generation models; work in normative modelling in this area has already been published.