Social influencers are playing a fast-growing role in marketing for almost any business you care to mention.

Influencers have already come a long way from their humble beginnings in the not-so-long-ago era of bedroom blogging. But now, with technology driving the emergence of influencer networks, influencer marketing is set to evolve further – and for the better.

It’s a little over 20 years since a student at America’s Swarthmore College student called Justin Hall created what is now widely credited as the first blog – a term officially coined around five years later. This was a watershed moment: a new opportunity for ordinary people to have a public voice and communicate with people beyond their immediate, physical social circle.

Blogging took off, with escalating follower numbers for those with the most compelling content and commercial opportunities up-scaled by the evolution of video blogging coming of age when Google began its monetisation partnership programme for vloggers the year after it acquired a two-year-old video sharing network in 2007 called YouTube.

Brands woke up to the most popular bloggers’ growing audiences and offered them free products to feature. But it was the growing popularity of social media that truly ignited the influencer marketplace.

Facebook jump-started the creation of connected online communities, then the creative barrier to entry was further lowered by the short-lived video hosting service Vine whose short-form six-second video content formats meant anyone anywhere could create, post and distribute video content online using a mobile phone.

Then, thanks to Instagram’s easy-to-use digital filters, everyone could take and post their own high quality photographic images online.

The net effect has been two-fold

First, there has been – and still is – a rapid expansion in the number of online influencers commanding large social followings despite not being celebrities in the traditional sense. Second, brands have embraced the concept of influencer marketing and turned the pursuit of those influencers with the largest number of followers into little short of a social media arms race.

Cosying up to influencers is understandable

Consumer trust and confidence in advertising declined by over 20% since 2007. An estimated 47% of consumers now use ad blocking technology. Meanwhile, consumer confidence in word of mouth advertising has risen sharply with 92% of consumers claiming to trust recommendations from peers or trusted authorities.

Yet brands’ current preoccupation with influencer follower numbers risks blinding them to the opportunities that, thanks to latest technology developments, now lie ahead.

One fundamental change that has come about as a direct result of influencers’ growing scale and confidence has been the organic coming together of influencers to collaborate and pool their interests and opportunities.

Another has been the emergence of third party-run influencer platforms independent of social networks to help match-make and administer direct brand/influencer relationships. The benefit of such an approach is obvious as the time and effort and administration it takes a brand or marketing agency to work with 100 influencers is now the same as it used to be working with just one.

Influencer networks provide, in effect, a one-stop shop for brands, ensuring relationships with influencers are well-organised and conducted with consistent pricing on consistent terms and assurance guarantees. They also provide a pathway to best practice – an important consideration moving forwards in this still nascent business to maintain the best interests of both sides.

There is another benefit that is just as important for any advertiser, however: the potential to optimise the brand-influencer fit.

Naturally, campaign needs will differ

Some brands will choose to work with a PR or talent management agency or influencer marketing specialist through which they will strike a deal with a specific big name influencer who is right for them. But there will be (and already are) many more occasions when what’s best for a campaign will be to find a selection of influencers – some of whom may already be known to that brand, many not.

It’s hard to argue with the benefits of a new approach to working with influencers that offer improved efficiency, cost and time-saving.

Ultimately, however, what counts is finding the right influencers – whatever their size or profile – who are the best fit and the most motivated to take your brand and present it to the audiences you want to reach with as much commitment and passion as if it were their own.

Don’t just read about it, join the experts on stage at the brand new Influencer Marketing Show arriving this October alongside PI Live – register to attend today.