Belgium is finally paving its way towards a clear set of guidelines with regard to the paid promotion of products and services by influencers. FOD Economie (SPF Economie) hasn’t been able to follow with clear legal instructions, although other countries like the US, Australia, the UK, The Netherlands and others, had already agreed upon well defined guidelines years ago.

As an influencer relations platform, this topic is close to heart. Therefore we are happy to see that all sector parties agree that the Belgian industry should have straightforward legal guidance in order to professionalise. An industry best practice in influencer advertising is much needed and we are ALL here to support the debate!

That’s why we would like to invite all stakeholders to share their opinions, references, quotes, posts, pitfalls, benefits or anything relevant regarding proper #guidelinesforinfluencers.

We started an open group where influencers, brands, agencies, platforms, and consumers can discuss this hot topic.

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If you would like to state your opinion anonymously you are welcome to send us an email and we will ensure your opinion is shared and heard with FOD economie.

Why participate?

FOD Economie unfortunately did not go in discussion with professionals and influencers when putting together these guidelines. The release of the guidelines caused a lot of uproar because they were much too strict. Because of this, FOD economie immediately took down the guidelines from its website. This is our chance to enter into a dialogue and establish a proper and realistic framework.

What do the current guidelines say?

  • Influencers need to use “reclame” or “advertentie” at the beginning of every post, or at the beginning of a blogpost title.
  • Disclaimers such as "in samenwerking met”, “met dank aan”, “in opdracht van”, “partner” and “sponsor” are not accepted. “#Reclame” needs to be in a prominent position in the post, depending on the medium, and in the same language as the rest of the text.
  • It needs to be immediately clear that it is "reclame" or “publicité”, whether the content was posted with a monetary incentive or not.
  • The influencer who posted the content and/or the company that gave the task to post the ad could be held responsible.
  • They could receive a fine from € 208 up to €400.000.

Open letter from Influo

On Tuesday, May 15 the Belgian FOD Economie released a document that lists guidelines for influencers in Belgium. This document represents a best practice that online influencers, bloggers and social broadcasters need to follow when communicating about products and services which they received for free or if they received a financial compensation from a brand, agency or company to showcase those products or services. The purpose of these guidelines is, as stated by the FOD Economie, to protect the consumer.

As FOD Economie states in that document:

“(…) It is not always clear to consumers that the online influencer is reimbursed for advertising of a particular brand or product. The ignorance of consumers about the true nature of such posts, thus advertising, results in influencing the purchase behaviour of consumers in an unfair manner.”

The same day the guidelines were released, they were taken down from the website of FOD Economie, and a statement was issued that the guidelines were “premature” and that there will be “deliberation with the sector”.

FOD Economie, unfortunately, did not go in discussion with professionals and influencers when putting together these guidelines. As professionals in the business of influencer marketing, we find these guidelines to be too restrictive, inconclusive, and above all unfair. We stand completely by transparency and fairness of the online advertising industry and would like to help FOD Economie rewrite these guidelines that will appeal more to professionals in this sector, and be fair towards the consumer.

The released guidelines were quite inconclusive, and placed a distinction between a journalist and a blogger in a rule, but without any clarification on where the line lies. To give an example: a journalist will write a review of a concert for which he received a free ticket to attend. This is considered freedom of press, whilst a blogger who will have the same experience, but does not have a journalistic accreditation is considered an individual that is advertising. Only the latter would have to disclose #reclame or #publicité.

We would like to emphasise that Influencers are not in the business of “influencing the purchase behaviour of consumers in an unfair manner”, but are influencing the consumer behaviour by sharing their own opinion. If every influencer would be creating content about something strictly because they received it for free, or received compensation for it, the job for us marketers would be much easier. We use our experience and knowledge to allocate the right influencer to the right brands, whilst it is up to the influencer to choose whether they will be collaborating with a brand or not. In a large majority of the cases, if not exclusively always, the influencer will not collaborate with a brand they do not support, a product they dislike, or recommend an experience that for them was not positive.

Creating online content takes time and resources, so it is fair to see that content created by influencers is created with financial compensation, not because of financial compensation, and this is a thin line no argument should cross.

Influencer marketing is not only about free products and gifts. It is about content creation, expression of opinion, a consumer to consumer dialogue and sharing of information. The guidelines do not protect a consumer as they claim, but restricts the landscape of social media and advertising as we know it.

We suggest that the industry stakeholders should self-regulate, keeping in mind what is fair towards the consumer and the content creators. An example: including #ad in sponsored post. This is not as overwhelming as "reclame" screaming from every corner of social media, but is subtle yet obvious. This will also allow those who simply write reviews and share opinions on certain products or topics, not to be equalised with those who are factually advertising online.

Together with FOD Economie, we would like to facilitate the discussion on this topic and, most importantly, help educating the consumer about the world of social media advertising and influencer marketing.

We believe there is a great deal we can accomplish together to set rules and guidelines that will give content creators their creative freedom and consumer their peace of mind.

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Download the first version by FOD Economie/SPF Economie.