Lena Syed is a 21-year-old college student from Springfield who currently attends George Washington University in Washington, D.C. When she’s back home, Syed creates content for her Tik Tok account @LenaSyed, which showcases Ohio and Dayton-area businesses.
“In May of 2020, I came home from school due to the pandemic and at first I was like, ‘Ugh, I’m stuck in Ohio,’ ” she said. “I started looking up things to do in the area and found things that I had no idea existed. So, I started sharing these things on Tik Tok and people really liked it.”
With a follower count of 124,700 and more than 2.7 million “likes,” Syed has collaborated with around 50 businesses so far, posting marketed content for her growing following in exchange for products, and eventually for cash.
“At the time, I was noticing a lot of my favorite businesses were struggling (as a result of COVID-19), so I wondered if there was a way for me to help,” she said. “Soon enough, businesses started reaching out to me and I was able to get paid for the promotions.”
Syed’s videos feature museums, “hidden gems,” and behind-the-scenes looks at restaurants and coffee shops, with messages reminding Ohioans “you don’t need to leave Ohio to have a good time.”
Influence marketing is a hybrid of old and new marketing tools utilized by individuals, or “influencers,” who have spent time building their own brand, cultivating an audience, and demonstrating credibility within a specific industry or topic.
There has been a 465% increase in searches for the phrase “influencer marketing” since 2016, according to Influencer Marketing Hub, and 67% of brands use Instagram for influencer marketing. Though the overall goal of each individual influencer varies, the majority of these social media marketers employ similar online habits in order to achieve a substantial and engaged following.
Many local residents are still in the early stages of building a large following. For Dayton native Dane Shipp, influence marketing has provided a successful way to promote his work as a private and pop-up chef.
Known as @ChefDaneFly on Instagram, Shipp has a following of more than 9,000. He said social media has given him a way to gain popularity in the food industry, keeping longtime and potential customers up to date on his menu and where they can find him.
“I change my menu every time I cook, so I am constantly posting on Instagram,” he said. “It’s a major part of what I do.”
Shipp said his social media presence is demanding at times, but he considers it a crucial part of his success.
“I don’t like that I have to do it so much because it takes so much of my time, but that’s how people know what’s going on with me,” he said.
A unique aspect of influence marketing versus traditional advertising is the idea that followers are getting a peek into the influencer’s life. In the way that reality television is a guilty pleasure for many, this aspect of exclusivity, matched with the element of entertainment that social media provides, leads to influencers having a status of celebrity.
For this reason, Shipp said he prefers to create and post content himself rather than employing a social media manager. “I’m showing you what I’m doing in real time instead of somebody just posting for me, so you’re getting a first-person view,” he said.
Darion Lewis, another Dayton-area chef, uses Instagram in a similar way to promote his business and brand. Lewis owns and operates More Than A Apron LLC and goes by @ChefLewis on Instagram. With a following of more than 4,000, Lewis said a big part of successful influence marketing is personality.
“I grew my following pretty fast because of my personality, so it’s not just about my food,” he said.
Collaboration with other businesses, reposting customers’ pictures and videos of his food, and following a variety of local accounts, helps to grow an audience, Lewis said.
“Following accounts for police departments, mayors, and things like that can bring more eyes to my work, and connecting with other people and reposting things on social media helps get my name out there,” he said. “Plus, if small businesses stick together, we can all come out on top.”
For Dayton resident Sabrina Cox, influence marketing is less about advertising a specific product or service and more about promoting the collective success of the Dayton community.
Cox, 34, is the community and events director for Tender Mercy and Sueno. She also owns a boutique called Haus of Sequins. “It’s more of a mini-lifestyle brand,” she said. “I sell vintage and re-worked items and a lot of handmade things, all of which is resourced in a way that’s anti-fast fashion.”
Cox has two Instagram accounts — a personal account @GemCitySabrina, with 2,545 followers, and a business account @HausOfSequins, with 1,235 followers. Similar to Lewis, Cox’s approach to social media is to be as genuine as possible. “I used to feel like I needed to post often to stay relevant, but now I’ve gotten to a place where I just want things to be authentic,” she said.
An important aspect of her approach to influence marketing is to support local brands, sharing content to promote businesses and services she uses, along with tagging them in her bio. Cox said she occasionally makes money from these collaborations, but mainly, she wants to see her community thrive.
“If there’s a new Dayton business, or a business that’s been around for awhile, I want people to support them,” she said. “I think about how I can use this for the greater good to support the city that I love.”