US/EUROPE: User-generated images of brands are significantly more likely to generate consumer trust and brand engagement than those produced by marketers, a new report has claimed.

Consumer Trust: Keeping It Real, from Olapic, an earned content platform focused on consumer-generated material, was based on a survey of more than 4,500 active social media users aged 16-49 in the US and Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK).

This found that photos were by far the preferred form of UGC (52%), well ahead of video (27%) and written content (12%).

And, encouragingly for brands, 40% of respondents had uploaded such images hashtagging a brand in order to share their latest purchase with friends; 34% had done so because they had enjoyed a product or service.

Brands' efforts to promote hashtag adoption through contests, however, appeared less successful with just 14% having taken this action.

So there are plenty of user-generated images out there and they are trusted (46%) almost twice as much as those created by brands (27%) and nine times as much as advertising (5%) – an important consideration when social browsing is a common form of pre-purchase research.

Of the respondents who trusted UGC more than other content, 76% said they believed it was more honest.

While brands understandably wish to present themselves in the best possible light, they can be at risk of disillusioning consumers. Across the surveyed markets, 9% of respondents had returned an item after purchasing it online because it was so different from the featured photo.

Quite apart from the monetary loss this involves, brands also lose consumer trust and diminish the likelihood of future purchases.

In fact, 70% of respondents in the US and 53% in Europe indicated that they were more likely to buy a product after seeing a positive or relatable consumer-generated image of it online. The study also showed that trust has a significant impact on click-through rates and sales.

"Social media brings streams of authentic images to consumers' fingertips, transforming how they see products and interact with brands," said José de Cabo, co-founder of Olapic.

"Today's low levels of trust in traditional advertising suggest that consumers are seeking a more honest dialogue with brands and marketers," he added.

Data sourced from Olapic; additional content by Warc staff