Cleveland chef's weight loss on Instagram turns into a social media salary

Cleveland chef's weight loss on Instagram turns into a social media salary

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Private Chef Aubrey Johansen has taken her weight loss journey and turned it into serious cash. She's "Insta"-famous, and "Insta"-powerful.

She took over the Cleveland 19 News Instagram account to talk more about her story. 

"I'm just a regular person sharing the hard struggle of being a morbidly obese young person in this country, which is a huge epidemic," said Johansen, who lives in Slavic Village.

About two years ago, she had bariatric surgery. Post-op, she created an Instagram page as a safe space to share and hold herself accountable. She said she used it as a live journal. It took off almost overnight. While she was losing weight, she was gaining followers -- lots of them.

"It was about 30,000 followers that I had hit, and I thought 'Wow, this is actually a big deal,'" she said.

Once Johansen said she realized she had become a social media influencer, she started reaching out to brands that she uses in her daily life.

She proposed an endorsement and became the very first brand ambassador in the weight loss surgery community for Syntrax Supplement. The endorsements were in exchange for $150 in products every month. Then she got her own coupon code, which helps her earn commission.

"The code, for the last five months has been used almost 500 times. I've made over $2,000. It's been pretty amazing," Johansen said.

Now she hosts "diet bets" through Instagram which earn her a cut of the pot. Companies are also paying her for time on her page.

"To have this opportunity for extra income is amazing," she said.

Allison Peltz, with the engagement agency Hello LLC in Cleveland, said brands are moving away from the celebrity influencer in favor of the micro-influencer like Johansen.

"They are somebody who doesn't have the power of Kylie Jenner but to their audience they are the Kylie Jenner," said Peltz.

Fashion, beauty, health and fitness, food and DIY bloggers are leading the charge here. What makes these micro influencers appealing is their ability to connect with consumers by telling an authentic story, she said. 

"They have a passion. They have a craft. And they focus in on that. Mix in a few other really great things like a great camera, a great filter and the ability to bring to life what you know that your audience is interested in," Peltz said.

Alissa Kolarik is with RPM, which owns brands like Rustoleum and DayGlo. She said they've used paid and unpaid brand ambassadors and influencers, like Annette Labedzki, who has nearly half a million followers on Instagram.

"We sent her some of our paint and it made our social media following for the Dayglo Instagram account just jump like crazy. I think we saw an increase of 200 or 300 followers from that," she said.

And when they were transforming their Mohawk brand from an industrial to a consumer line, they enlisted the help of blogger Tasha, whose use of their products for her DIY projects has helped boost sales.

"We're able to see a spike in visits to our site, the spike in likes on social media, spike in just general interest in the brand after things are posted," said Kolarik.

Influencers can yield a large amount of power, and can even affect product development based on their feedback, Peltz said.

"What we've known with some of the brands that we've partnered with, is they've taken that to heart and they've made product changes based on that," she said.

If you'd like to turn your side hustle into real money, Peltz said to make sure the branding on all your social platforms looks similar.

Her advice: Use hashtags particular to your industry to help people find you, be a content contributor on other sites to create opportunity for links back to your content, keep a content calendar to carefully curate and edit what you're publishing. And if you know the story you want to tell and the brands you want to reach out to -- go for it.

"Be very specific. Here's my followers. Here's what I'm interested in doing. Here's who my audience is. Here is the story I want to tell you. Here's what I'm about. I'd love to partner with you," said Peltz.

With a reach of almost a million views a week, now Johansen is the one being pursued.

"It's almost like a competition between companies, who can send the best care package?

Followers and brands alike are invested in her story, turning what started as an outlet into a significant part of her livelihood.

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