Brands that want to build a sense of authenticity by talking about issues that matter to them have been advised to tread carefully.

According to Julie Atherton, Chair of DMA Social Media Council, having the right to speak about a subject is the most important aspect of authenticity.

“If you start talking about things that are not relevant to you, nobody will trust you and then you won’t be able to connect with that audience,” she stated.

Ms Atherton highlighted cosmetics brand Lush as an example of one brand that has overcome this obstacle, as it knows what it stands for and creates products that reflect its core values.

She noted that when a person goes to its website, the first thing they will see is “the cause that they are promoting” rather than products it wants customers to buy.

“Because they have a right to talk about it and they live that through everything they do, it feels authentic.” she said.

Ms Atherton went on to advise brands to consider incorporating user-generated content into their marketing mix.

She pointed out that this can be done in many ways, from images created by customers to product reviews that let people express their views in an authentic, unfiltered way.

“It’s easy to forget that people’s experiences that come out in their own words can be incredibly powerful and convincing,” she observed.

Ms Atherton was speaking at an event hosted by The Drum in association with Stackla, which carried out a study into how consumers regard user-generated content in marketing.

Some 60 per cent of respondents said they view it as the most authentic form of content, while 57 per cent said that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic.

The study also revealed that consumers are three times more likely to say content created by a consumer is authentic compared to content created by a brand, while 86 per cent of consumers believe authenticity is important when choosing which brands they like and support.

Another attendee at the The Drum’s event, tour operator Busabout, is one organisation that is keen to incorporate user-generated content in its marketing mix in order to portray an authentic image.

Managing Director Duncan Robertson acknowledged that moving away from images captured by professional photographers was a difficult transition.

“We had to literally change the way we market our business by asking our customers ‘Can we use your image?’ and then waiting for the content to come to us,” he said.

“It was a huge risk for us because it meant that we were no longer in control.”

However, Mr Robertson said he prefers this approach to working with industry influencers, as it allows marketers to embrace the “real authentic story about their brand and how it exists in a consumer’s life.”

What brand authenticity means in an age of user-generated content: 5 key takeaways The Drum