Influencers and the Two-step Flow Theory


In marketing, an influencer is someone with the ability to influence consumers to purchase a product or service. They will have a strong reputation among their social network followers and will probably be an expert on a specific topic.

If you have read our guide to the two-step flow theory of communication, you will know this definition of an influencer is quite similar to opinion leaders who can shape the thoughts and values of people they know, such as their friends and family.

This short essay question will develop your understanding of this key audience theory by exploring to what extent the framework can be applied to social media personalities.


While working as an apprentice at an interior design company in 2009, Zoe Sugg created her blog, “Zoella”, where she wrote about fashion and beauty. In 2013, “The Telegraph” described her as one of “Britain’s most influential Tweeters”. By 2014, her website had received over 140 million visits.

With 200,000 followers on Twitter and 1.1m followers on Instagram, Zoella remains a popular brand and personality with the audience.

This examination practice is taken from the style section of her blog. It is important to note that her posts contain ad-affiliate links. In other words, she gets paid to advertise some of the products and to collaborate with brands.


Analyse the following page from Zoella’s website in terms of the two-step flow theory of communication.

website screenshot
Screenshot from Zoella’s Blog

Points to Consider

Are we easily “brainwashed” by the media? Do well simply follow the trends presented to us on television, podcasts or on our social media feeds? Do these platforms have a powerful and persuasive influence on the audience? Early research into the effects of propaganda on the public suggested the mass media could have a profound impact on our values and beliefs.

However, Paul Lazarsfeld and his team’s research project into the behaviour of voters in the 1940s presidential elections in America suggested newspapers and radio had a very limited influence on the audience. In fact, friends, family and neighbours had a much greater impact on how we might vote for a particular candidate.

In 1955, Katz and Lazarsfeld offered a fuller explanation of the two-step flow theory in their book “Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications”. For the media studies examination, you only need the broad definitions of opinion leaders and opinion followers.

Semiotic Analysis

It is important to connect the theory to the actual text and analyse some of the dominant signifiers used to construct the message. For example, how do the website codes and conventions, such as the header and featured image, communicate a sense of style and luxury? How do the headline and kicker anchor our interpretation of the images? What other signs help deliver the preferred reading?

The Flow of Communication

In this unseen example, the institutions behind the products are fashion companies. Obviously, the medium is Zoella’s own website. As an influencer. she is communicating the benefits of their boots.

According to Katz, an opinion leader is someone who is trustworthy and has a supportive social network. Team Zoella are the opinion leaders who have sorted through the autumn catalogues and decided which dresses, jumpers and footwear are this season’s “must haves”. Do we trust their advice?

The viewer is the opinion follower looking for the “latest picks” on what to wear.

Using the two-step flow theory of communication, explain why this form of advertising is so effective.

Further Study

It might be worth considering Judith Butler’s concept of performativity and David Gauntlett’s ideas on identity, especially how the media can help us construct our own identity. For example, does the connection of the “chunky” boots to representations of femininity construct and/or reinforce that identity?

Katz, E. and Lazarsfeld, P (1955): “Personal Influence: The Part Played By People in the Flow of Mass Communications”.
Lazarsfeld, Paul et al (1944): “The People’s Choice”.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!