Social media influence a huge draw for local businesses

When Lena Syed posted a TikTok video in early January featuring Springfield’s own Ironworks Waffle Cafe, she knew it would be popular, but even she didn’t expect the results.

As a content creator, Syed says she assumed she’d get 50 thousand to 100 thousand views on her post because of the size of Springfield – compared to other larger markets that might bring anywhere from hundreds of thousands to 1 million plus views on a TikTok video.

But, the video of Lena enjoying Ironworks waffles in and around COhatch The Market in Springfield quickly jumped to more than 500 thousand views. As word spread, customers followed and in the days and weeks to come, Ironworks had a line that stretched from its spot in the back of COhatch through the building and out the front doors.

“In the food industry, we had heard from other people in COhatch and other restaurant people that January was going to be slow because it’s after the holidays, and so they said we should hunker down for that because it was going to be a slow month. And for that first week of January, it was true. It was really slow,” says Ironworks Owner Marcy Nesselroade, who noted not only a typical January slowdown, but also high COVID-19 numbers for the lack of customers as they year started. “The video went out on a Thursday night, and then Friday we got slammed, and by Saturday it was insane. The line was out the door all day.”

Syed says she first started featuring things to do, places to go, restaurants to eat at and places to shop throughout Ohio last year.

“I would say, just being form Ohio in general, we don’t have a lot of big attractions, but we have lots of hidden gems,” she says. “In the summertime during the pandemic I was trying to find more things to do, and I realized that there are so many things to do in Ohio that I had no idea about.

“So I started sharing those really cool amazing gems on TikTok and that started gaining some traction so I just continued with that.”

From state parks to sunflower fields and U-pick farms to picture-worthy downtown spots, Syed has highlighted places all around the state, and more recently started featuring local businesses in various cities, including Springfield.

"A lot of these places that I was highlighting, the pandemic has hit them hard like many other businesses, so it’s really good to bring attention to them,” Syed says, explaining that the algorithms used by TikTok are not only connection-based but also location-based, which she says leads to a lot more people seeing the content. “It’s really amazing that I get to help other businesses while pursuing my own passions and interests.”

Syed's TikTok posts have garnered such a following, she was featured in December by the Cincinnati Enquirer as one of "Five Ohio TikTok accounts to follow."

Social media has become an integral part of our lives and our communities, and it basically serves as another form of 'word of mouth,'” says Kelcie Webster, visitor center and marketing coordinator for The Chamber of Greater Springfield.

“So, when people or organizations post photos of the various places they visit or products they produce, it creates a familiarity to the community and can capture the attention of new residents or customers,” Webster says. “Through social media, a person can become better educated on the amenities that are right there in their own community, and they can feel confident about their potential future experience if they know a friend had a good time and has the photos to prove it.”

Social media “influencers” – like Syed – who have attracted a large, trusted following, are especially important to locations and businesses and have been key during the pandemic to help people feel connected with places they enjoy or hope to enjoy in the near future. They also help get the word out about businesses, products, and services during a time when people are generally staying home more often than during a typical year.

“I think if you look at the outcome of Lena’s TikTok with Ironworks, it definitely shows the potential Clark County could have with some marketing via TikTok,” Webster says. “While TikTok is a fun way to pass the time by scrolling through videos … you can still learn and discover so many things.

“And, the better the visuals are, the more likely the viewer is to remember it and want to experience the same thing. That’s something Lena is skilled at doing, which is why her video with Ironworks made such an impression on people.”

In the past, the Chamber has partnered with social media influencers including Breakfast with Nick, Traveling with Nina, and Consistently Curious, with each featuring things to do and see in Springfield, Webster says. She also mentioned that Ashten Houseman, owner of Envelope Date in Springfield, as a local social media influencer who curates custom date nights for couples and promotes a variety of local businesses in doing so.

Lena says she’s working on plans to partner with the Chamber to feature more Springfield businesses in the future and her further community growth here.

“It’s amazing that I can help contribute to that,” says Syed, who will be featuring another local restaurant – Speakeasy Ramen – in her next video. You’ll be able to find the Speakeasy Ramen video posted on her TikTok within the next week.

And, Nesselroade, who runs Ironworks with her daughter Ellie Morgan, agrees – as they are still shocked by the video bringing new customers locally, from across the state, and even from other states.

“We were just really thankful for the video – we just really feel thankful for it,” Nesselroade says. “It’s one of those things that you can’t make happen, but you’re just super thankful for when it does.”

She’s also thankful in general to be a part of the growth and energy of revitalizing the city, especially downtown.

“I just love on Saturdays, that feeling of people back in Downtown Springfield … I love to see that hustle and bustle back in our downtown,” she says.

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Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.