Chiara Ferragni in California’s Anza Borrego Desert.

The power that influencers wield is old news. But the way in which they wield it continues to evolve.

Today’s top bloggers are now characterized as one of two things — converters or brand builders — and both are critical to brands’ efforts to win online. The first group is able to sell product, and finally drive the return on investment that brands have been desperate to measure since the early days of influencer partnerships.

Jennifer Powell, president and founder of Jennifer Powell Inc., a firm that does branding and strategy for influencers such as Julie Sariñana of Sincerely Jules and Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, said she was initially surprised when she found influencers with millions of followers not converting.

“It’s interesting — there are certain girls people work with for brand awareness, and a lot of times it’s not the same people who convert. A lot of times [a brand] works with someone who drives brand awareness and someone who converts. There aren’t that many in this space that can do both,” Powell said.

Numbers once dictated who a brand would partner with, but it’s now the kind of followers one has that matters. If a brand wants to lift sales they need to work with influencers who have “buying” audiences, not just the person who has two million followers.

Aligning with bloggers in the second group could up a brand’s cool factor, even though their followers are less likely to click and buy. Partnering with the likes of Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, for instance, can boost brand awareness and help with things like positioning and reach, according to industry experts. The Italian-born blogger is reportedly not a powerful sales driver.

Ferragni and others are fast morphing into the next generation of “celebrities” — appearing on magazine covers and campaigns for major players in the fashion and beauty space less concerned with conversion — and their star is only rising. After all, can a skin care or cosmetics brand really track the sales coming from an ad campaign that features an A-list actress?

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