Companies are increasingly seeing the value of social media influencers for their marketing processes, which is why Belgium has drawn up new guidelines to protect both them and consumers.
Influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing through which people with a large following on social media who are considered an "expert" in their field endorse certain products.
In Belgium, a rule has been in place for a while that influencers must indicate in a post that such endorsements are for commercial activities, but the guidelines on how to do that were very unclear.
"At one point there were so many possible hashtags for advertising going around, that influencers no longer knew what to use, and this was no longer acceptable," State Secretary for Consumer Protection Eva De Bleeker's spokesperson, Nele Matthys, told The Brussels Times.
Under the new guidelines, influencers in Belgium are given the choice between several hashtags – #advertising (#reclame, #advertentie) and #publicity (#publiciteit) – to indicate to their followers that they are being paid or are sponsored to post a certain message on their social media channels when putting up a commercial post.
They can also use #sponsored if, for example, there are no agreements or expectations between the influencer and a company about the number of posts or their content, or if no commission is earned based on the number of clicks.
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"It does not matter which one they use, it is just important that consumers know when seeing a post to consider that it is for commercial purposes and not a real, personal recommendation from the influencer," Matthys explained.
The Economic Inspectorate will be carrying out proactive checks to ensure these guidelines are being followed. If necessary, it can issue administrative fines, which can amount to up to €80,000. It will also look into consumer complaints regarding influencers.
"Such complaints have not been lodged very often so far because followers do have a relationship of trust with the influencers," said Matthys.
Belgium's Communication Centre will also continue to raise awareness about this, including informing influencers.
"These new recommendations offer better protection to consumers, who have the right to know at all times whether a post on social media represents an opinion or an experience or whether it is a commercial communication. These rules also provide legal certainty to the industry to ensure that consumers are properly protected," said Sandrine Sepul, director of the centre.