At Hinge we have been studying Visible Experts℠, people who have attained high visibility and expertise in their industry, creating a personal brand that is recognizable industry-wide. We study them because we want to understand how they attained that status and what we can learn from them. This profile focuses on Lori Randall Stradtman, a Visible Expert for social media strategy.

Lori Randall Stradtman didn’t set out to become a Visible Expert. When this newly divorced mom returned to college in 2005 for a second degree in communications, she was thinking only of starting a career that could support her three kids. Fast forward eight years, and today Lori is an author, a public speaker, and a highly sought social media strategist with her own successful company. How did she get there? We caught up with Lori to find out.


Making her own way

As a student at the University of Georgia, Lori worked as an editor on the school newspaper, becoming an early adopter of Facebook—available only to colleges and universities at the time. She quickly recognized Facebook’s potential, using the social network to share her stories and pick up news tips. Lori never dreamed that social media could one day be a job. But in 2008, with graduation looming, the Great Recession hit hard and she began to think creatively about career choices. After graduating, Lori started her own blog, sharing her ideas on social media and marketing, and landed a job as marketing director at a high-end design firm.

Lori worked at the firm for a short time before realizing that she might be able to go further on her own. Her blog was gaining a lot of attention, and she saw that social media could be used to share ideas and generate buzz—something her firm was not doing. “I had contact with all these places and people online, around the country,” she said. “I quickly realized that trying to do business networking locally was very narrow.”

Lori left the firm to start her own small web design company using a brand-new business model and offering a brand-new service, both based around social media. Her first client was located in Dubai. Her second was in Silicon Valley. She thought, “Why splash around in a small pool when you can make a bigger impact? I realized: I’ve got to change everything. I have to make websites that are completely integrated with social media and easy to use.”

Lori began to offer WordPress websites that focused more and more on social media integration. Through her personal blog, social networking on Facebook and Twitter, and client referrals, word spread quickly that Lori was a social media guru. Soon she was being asked to host conferences, lecture at universities, and submit articles to major mainstream media outlets.

Becoming a Visible Expert

Lori knew that she had become a Visible Expert when the Wiley publishing company called her unexpectedly in mid-2011, inviting her to write the next how-to book in their famous “Dummies” series. They even offered a topic, “Online Reputation Management For Dummies.” After a flurry of research, the book was published a year later and became Amazon’s second best-selling book in the Public Relations category within a month.

Becoming a Visible Expert has allowed Lori to expand her sphere of influence, working with much bigger and more visible clients, and to raise her fees fivefold. She had started off her business by helping individuals and small businesses—entrepreneurs like herself. As she became more well-known, she dropped the web design part of her work and expanded into working with entertainers and executives—bigger names whose online reputations were key parts of their businesses. Today, she is a full-time social media strategist, helping large organizations and companies create and manage their social media programs. She continues to travel around the country and internationally for speaking engagements, and she is hard at work on her next book.

Give it away for free

Like Visible Experts Alan Weiss and Ian Brodie, content marketing—the practice of creating and sharing a steady stream of valuable, free information—has played an important role in Lori’s success. “I started off by blogging regularly and staying active on my social networks,” she says. “There was a pretty vocal community of people in social media that liked me and shared my stuff. Then I started a podcast series for authors, where they could share tricks-of-the-trade on getting published. That was how Wiley [publishing] probably found me.”

By sharing a wide variety of free, valuable content, Lori was able to simultaneously expand both her reputation and her visibility. People liked to read her stuff; when those people needed help with social media, they turned to Lori first.

In fact, Lori says that giving—the underlying principle of content marketing—is the philosophy behind her entire career. She was so motivated by the idea of giving and spreading goodness that she created a scalable system for doing so, making it a focal point in her book. “I want to see organizations putting good and genuinely helpful stuff out into the world,” she says. “It’s as simple as that.”

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