This single mom reclaimed her life with an Instagram page
When Gina Sanchez got divorced last year, she became a single mom…and a social media influencer.
On Instagram and TikTok, Sanchez posts as Utah Fun Activities. The accounts—which, as the name might suggest, share fun things you can do in Utah—have over 100,000 followers combined.
“On top of raising my kids, running these accounts is my full-time job,” she says.
Most of Sanchez’s income comes from paid posts, she says. Different organizations in the state pay to share their activities on her story or videos. Today, Sanchez says she can earn thousands of dollars a month from paid posts alone.
Of course, Utah Fun Activities didn’t start that way—it launched in 2019 as a private Instagram account.
Sanchez’s ex-husband is in the military, and while they were married, they moved around a lot.
“I was a stay-at-home mom inside with the kids in New York, in Germany, all over the world, just trying to entertain my kids and help us get comfortable everywhere we were,” she says. When her family moved to Utah, Sanchez started documenting their lives for friends and family. If they went to a new museum or a pretty park, she’d post about it.
“I wanted a place to show our loved ones what we were up to,” she says. “I mean, it was a private account. The posts and content I was sharing were not easily accessible. That was not my goal.”
Like many other popular internet creators, the account’s growth was completely by word-of-mouth—and a little by accident.
“Friends invited friends who invited their friends to follow the page,” Sanchez says. “And I didn’t know what to do! I just accepted all the requests.”
Within a few months, Sanchez had 1,000 followers on the locked profile. When she hit 5,000 later that year, Good Things Utah reached out to her.
That interview was the start of many, many more. TV shows, radio stations, and magazines flooded Sanchez’s inbox.
“It was like a bomb went off,” she says.
As Sanchez’s follower account grew, an idea began to take shape: What if this became a business?
“The strength of this account is that it has everything in one place,” she says. “When I’d search for things to do, we had multiple tabs open, all these different websites. I saw the need for a centralized site. You want to know about carnivals, hot air balloons, hiking trails, and places to eat? It’s all here on my Instagram, where a bunch of people already are.”
The other big piece of Utah Fun Activities? Culture.
“I’m Latina, and I speak Spanish,” Sanchez says. “My platform is also bilingual, and a large part of my audience is also Spanish-speaking or immigrated to Utah. I knew I use this platform to connect people like me to local culture.”
Making the Utah Fun Activities account public just “felt right,” Sanchez says, so she did. Sanchez continued to post casually, though the idea of establishing herself as a brand got stickier and stickier. She ignored it.
“My husband was very against all of this,” she says. “He thought I spent too much time online and that there wasn’t really a future in it.”
For a little while, Sanchez also believed that. When the divorce went through, she became even more strapped for time. Now, she had a mortgage payment to make and three kids to support.
“I needed to start building credit,” Sanchez says. “I needed to get the loan company to put my name on the documents. It was a stressful time, and the money coming from social media wasn’t enough.”
"It was like a bomb went off."
Even through the TikTok Creator Fund and with money coming in from multiple videos getting several thousands of views, Sanchez wasn’t making much.
“I think I got around $60,” she says. “If you have a big family, you know that might buy dinner one night.”
All of these pressures combined led Sanchez to find a part-time job and can the Utah Fun Activities accounts. The response from her followers is what eventually brought her back online.
“I got so many messages and comments from people asking where I went,” she says. “They missed me. Knowing people needed me was really encouraging. That’s what kept me going.”
In the year since then, that devoted audience has lent Sanchez all kinds of brand deals.
“I have a niche,” she says. “I only work with brands that are family-oriented or that reflect those kinds of values.”
Sanchez says she turned down a hefty sponsorship deal from an alcoholic beverage company this year.
“I felt bad turning them down,” she says. “I told them, ‘I want to help you, but your products don’t align with my purpose.’”
Sanchez knew her audience wouldn’t be responsive to that kind of partnership. And in all that she does, she circles back to that supportive audience.
“My main idea, the motivation behind all of this, was to get people out of the house and connected,” Sanchez says.
All of the changes in the last few years still shock Sanchez. Building an online business wasn’t ever in her life plan—it wasn’t even a dream in the back of her mind.
“I grew because people asked me to,” she says. “They’d say, ‘I don’t have an Instagram, but I have a Facebook,’ so I made a Facebook account. Then I made a TikTok, and then I made a YouTube, and so on and so on.”
As Sanchez joined new platforms, she started learning more about each algorithm.
“When I was in college, my worst subject was marketing,” she laughs. “I passed with a C.” But that was over 20 years ago, and she says marketing has changed a lot.
“Now these social media sites fascinate me,” she says. “My audience varies drastically on each platform. I have 18-year-olds following me on one and grandparents on another. Some are mostly men, and others are mostly women.”
Despite her diverse following, Sanchez says she posts pretty much the same content on every platform, playing with the timing and frequency of posts. What she doesn’t do, though, is digital advertising.
"These social media sites fascinate me. My audience varies drastically on each platform. I have 18-year-olds following me on one and grandparents on another."
“I have never paid for advertisements,” Sanchez says. “People have asked me how to grow a following, what kind of online ads are the best or most effective. And I’m like, ‘Honestly, I don’t know how to do that.’”
And why would she, when word of mouth is working perfectly fine? More than fine, actually—Sanchez’s TikTok account has been around for less than a year and has almost as many followers as her Instagram.
Of course, she’s not against a little traditional marketing.
“I have a bright pink jeep,” Sanchez says. “It’s covered in Utah Fun Activities branding, and I see people take pictures of it when I’m out. It attracts a lot of attention. My kids ask that I park a few blocks away when I pick them up from school, but the thing I don’t think they understand yet is that all of this is paying the bills!”
Utah Fun Activities is also paying it forward. Sanchez says similar accounts have popped up since hers took off, but she doesn’t see them as competition. Instead, it’s the exact opposite: they help each other.
“There’s a mom from Spain, another one from Romania, a mom from India that post about things to do with your families,” she says.“They come to me with questions, and I’m always open to sharing ideas. The intent behind everything I’m doing—and I think everything they’re doing—is to help people, to make life easier and more interesting. Why would that be seen as conflict?”
It goes further than text messages and DMs, too. Sanchez posts “shoutouts” to these accounts on her Instagram stories and even tags them in her posts.
“I want them to grow as much as I want to grow my own accounts,” she says. “I have met so many amazing Spanish-speaking people that say my account has helped them be more active and make more friends. There aren’t many bilingual accounts like this, so the fact that we’re seeing more in all these languages is exciting.”
Sharing her wealth hasn’t slowed her down—instead, it’s ramped things up. Now, Sanchez’s focus is expansion.
“I want a website,” she says. “And I want to start an LLC for Utah Fun Activities. Now that I have the time to dedicate to this and the support, I know that kind of thing is possible. With all of this, I can do some good. And to me, if that’s an option, I think you should always do it.”