The long tail is longer than you think

I left the world of financial aid and student loans way back in January 2010.

Slackershot: Financial Aid Podcast Shirt

I had created a ton of content for the company I was working for at the time, including the very first financial aid podcast, and I’m proud that kids paid less for college based on the work I did.

But this should give you a sense of just how long the long tail of content is. I got this email today – October 23, 2014, almost 5 years after leaving the field:

Quick question could you recommend where my daughter should go/apply for a student loan? I remember you were connected with a student loan site or was I tripping?

This demonstrates the power and longevity of content online. Half a decade has passed since it was my job to answer questions like this, yet people still find me through evergreen content and ask questions. (I’m still happy to answer as best as I can, because it’s for a good cause)

The content you create today can come back to you years later. As long as content marketing programs take to get running, once they have momentum, they can continue paying benefits to you long into the future.

Financial aid stuff

For those interested, by the way, the answer to the above question is as follows. Before you go shopping for loans, be sure you’ve applied for scholarships. There are millions of dollars out there and many scholarships only get a handful of applicants, especially the low dollar ones. Winning 10 $500 scholarships is just as good as winning 1 $5,000 scholarship, and the competition is lighter. Googling for scholarships is simple to do, and just requires dedication and work.

One parent who was a listener of my podcast back in the day had a great tip: he paid his child 10 cents on the dollar for every scholarship they brought home. When Junior wanted a new car, new phone, new etc., this dad reminded him of the deal. By the time freshman year rolled around, the kid had the new phone, new laptop, etc. – because they brought home $138,000 in scholarships.

When it comes to loans, start by completing a FAFSA and then seeing what financial aid you qualify for. Every student enrolled in an eligible, accredited school can get an unsubsidized Stafford federal student loan. Students who file a FAFSA and are given approval by demonstrating financial need can get subsidized Stafford federal student loans as well. After that, students can either apply with a cosigner for private student loans, or parents can apply for federal PLUS loans. For complete information about federal student loans, go visit the US Department of Education’s website.

Your best bet before you begin the financial aid process is to talk to a qualified financial planner to look at all of your options. Many community banks and credit unions offer these services for free to members; typically they work on salary and receive no commissions or incentives to sell you extra stuff. Sometimes, taking out a home equity loan if possible may make greater overall financial sense than taking out a student or parent loan – but you can make that determination only when you look at the big picture, financially.

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How to calculate the value of your social media influence

Slackershot - Spare Change

“I would do this for free, but I make you pay so that you understand the value of what you are getting.” – Mike Lipkin via Mitch Joel

One of the most core concepts in economics is the concept of opportunity cost. For any given expenditure, what else could you have purchased? If you bought an iPad, what else could you have bought with that money? If you spent your time weeding the garden, what else could you have been doing in that same period of time?

If you’re going to spend any amount of time working in social media, building influence and your personal brand, you need to be able to understand the opportunity cost of social media and how your influence impacts it. You also need to know what you are worth so that you can judge if any corporate social media campaign you’ve been asked to be a part of is worth your time. Obviously, if it’s a brand or product that you legitimately love and don’t measure in monetary terms, then put the value equation aside and skip this post!

The monetary value of your social media influence starts with your current income. It’s the fairest and most accessible price estimate of what the market is willing to pay for your time and labors. If you spend an hour on Facebook in your free time, what could that hour have earned you at work?

The way to calculate this is by some basic math. The average person works 50 weeks a year (with two weeks’ paid leave) and 40 hours per week at full employment. Thus, take your income, whatever you made in total last year, and divide it by 2,000. That’s your effective hourly rate. While this does make the assumption that every hour you work is valuable (including lunch), it’s a starting point.

Once you know your hourly rate, you understand your current market value. You understand at a basic level what your time is worth, what someone else is willing to pay you. If a company sends you a product for review on your blog and it takes you an hour to review it, its value had better exceed your hourly rate or you’re losing effectively losing value. You’re giving away more value than you’re receiving, because theoretically, you could be working for your current employer at the same rate.

When a corporation approaches you about helping them with their campaign, you must know your hourly rate as a baseline to judge whether or not something is worth doing. Lots of artists and musicians get proposals all the time about working for “exposure” and other non-monetary compensation. Lots of bloggers and social media influencers get asked to pitch stuff to their friends or to submit guest content for “exposure”. The question isn’t whether or not that’s a valid form of payment; the question is whether it’s an equitable trade.

This isn’t to say that your hourly rate is the only calculation to use, just the easiest one (especially if you’re just getting started building your brand). If you have established digital properties, your value may greatly exceed just your time alone. Think about what value your personal web site provides. Check out similar sites with similar search rankings, traffic, and reputation, especially commercial sites, and determine what an ad costs to place on those sites. This is a measurement (often reviled) called ad value equivalence, only in this case it makes total sense because a company is asking you to place something in a spot where you could run a different ad.

For example, if a commercial entity comes to you and asks you to display a badge on your blog, know what they’d pay on other similar sites (use Google Adwords Display Planner, for example) and judge whether you’re getting that value from the asking company in exchange for your efforts and ad space. On this blog, I have ads for my book and for my public speaking. If I swap out that space for something else, it had better generate the same or better economic outcome for me, or it’s not worth it.

The reason we have so much trouble with social media ROI begins with not having any idea what our own value is. Use some of the points in this post to start assessing your own value, and you’ll have the beginnings of understanding what the value of your social media influence is. How much money are you leaving behind?

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Vacation Video: The Next Financial Crisis

I’ll be on vacation for a few days, so while I’m out, I’m going to feature the 5 talks I’ve watched recently that are worth sharing. My blog will resume its normal content on Wednesday, October 2. Enjoy the videos!

Today: predicting the next financial crisis. By the way, there’s a marketing metrics gem in here if you’re paying careful attention.

I’m back from vacation tomorrow.

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