3 things brands must know about today's influencers

The BlogHer 17 conference in Orlando, hosted by SheKnows Media, was a star-studded, three-day event that brought out the likes of Chelsea Clinton, Serena Williams, Gabrielle Reece, Maria Bello, Ana Navarro, Carla Hall and so many more. When bloggers weren't listening to empowering messages from speakers on the mainstage, they were attending breakout sessions on the business of blogging and networking events with brands.

In between all of this, attendees roamed the halls, hopping on Facebook Live to talk about the conference with followers or posting to Snapchat about the latest, greatest trends in the blogging and influencer space. Attending this conference reaffirmed a few things for me, including this truth: bloggers and social influencers are a powerful force. Here's what brands really need to know to make the most of influencer relationships.

Note: I realize that not all bloggers are social influencers, and not all social influencers have blogs, but for the purpose of this piece I'm going to use those terms interchangeably. For brand interaction purposes, they are the same types of creators.

Social influencers are savvy business people.

Absent from the BlogHer agenda were "fluff" sessions. There were no idea workshops, or warm-and-fuzzy dream board creation sessions. It was assumed, I assume, that the bloggers making the effort to attend the conference wanted to learn something tangible to apply to their own brands. Attendees showed up to learn new things about ad technology, social networking, virtual reality and more. I personally attended sessions on "Making the Most of Your Ad Inventory" presented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and "Best Practices for Creating Multiple Income Streams."

I say all of this is to make the following point: social influencers likely know more about how to reach their own followers than you do. Don't assume that you know more than an influencer or will have to explain how campaigns work. Most will already have some thoughts about how to most effectively share your message so listen to them. They are savvy and tuned in. They know what they are doing.

Social influencers expect to get paid.

When brands first started reaching out to bloggers, a product or experience was generally offered in exchange for a review or link back to that brand. Then, bloggers got smarter. They realized what celebrity endorsers have long known: money talks. Getting paid makes sense, really. Bloggers work hard to build up their audiences and each knows the value of that real estate.

A strong theme of the BlogHer conference was empowerment, particularly through financial avenues. Serena Williams told attendees to never be afraid to ask for what they want and to always try to win. Chelsea Clinton spoke about how economic empowerment for women is the key to resolving so many other issues on a global scale. The bloggers who left the same conference I did were armed with confidence and self-worth - and that translates to the hard work they put into their online properties. Offering an amazing experience or product may get a brand a foot in the door with some bloggers and influencers - but long-term influencer strategies must include real-money payments.

Social influencers want to do the right thing.

Whether it's learning the FTC-approved disclosure wording for sponsored content or tweeting the right hashtag to raise awareness about domestic financial abuse, bloggers collectively want to do this whole "influence" thing the right way. In the closing keynote panel at BlogHer, documentary filmmaker Amy Ziering told the room to "f-ing write about SOMETHING that matters. Don't just use your space to promote products." Her advice was met with roaring applause. The woman sitting next to me, donning a gold sequince ballgown, shouted "You know that's right!" I later learned that gorgeous dresser is a plus-size fashion influencer with more than 300,000 social followers.

Like her, most bloggers and social influencers got started because they wanted to lend a voice to a specific issue - from plus-size fashion to breastfeeding to clean eating to running marathons to social justice, and more. Their hearts are in the right place and so the right ones will be just as picky about choosing brands as those brands are about choosing influencers. Particularly if your brand has a socially conscious message to convey, social influencers will share it in the most genuine, effective ways.

As influencers continue to rise in advertising prominence, expect even greater sophistication in what they have to offer brands. Bloggers and social influencers with a following really do have an asset, one that they've spent a lot of time cultivating. Respect that with fair compensation and genuine messaging that they'll authentically want to share with those hard-won audiences.

Katie Parsons edits SmartBrief newsletters on interactive advertising, social business, mobile marketing and other topics. She has a background in news media, working at the Orlando Sentinel and Chicago Tribune as a researcher and blogger. She is the creator of the parenting blog Mumbling Mommy and her writing has appeared in 50+ online and in-print publications, including the Huffington Post, USA Today, GalTime, ChamberofCommerce.com, and Florida Today. Follow her on Twitter: @bykatieparsons