(U//FOUO) U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Belgium

The following report is part of a series of Social Media Landscape guides produced by the U.S. Department of State for its U.S.- European Media Hub which is described as connecting “European audiences with U.S. policymakers and perspectives.” The Media Hub, which is located in Brussels, Belgium, is part of the International Media Engagement Office of the U.S. Department of State.  The report was produced in January 2010.  See also:

U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Hungary
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: France
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Spain
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Belarus
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Latvia
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Italy
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Romania
U.S. State Department Social Media Landscape: Norway

For USG Official Use Only

Social Media Landscape: Belgium

I.     Belgium at a glance

  • Internet access levels and general use are both high across Belgium
  • There is a skepticism  towards interacting with brands via social media
  • Cell phone penetration is high across the country

II.   Executive Summary

The social media landscape in Belgium has grown considerably over the last few years and Belgians appear to be increasingly proactive in their social media endeavors as Internet access is obtainable from many electronic sources. All generations, young and old have familiarized themselves with the cell phone, iphone, Blackberry and Netbook usage in order to access social media sites while on the move. The rise in Internet access via mobile devices has created an abundance of new social media users.

Local and global social media platforms are accessed in all three of Belgium’s official national languages (Dutch, French and German). Although, many people access sites such as Facebook or Twitter in English, the French and Dutch speakers often access sites in their mother languages. The ability to access all social media sites in a variety of languages makes for an appeal of global networks.  However, the overall influence brands have via social media is low in comparison to other European nations. Indeed, many Belgians are skeptical of interacting with brands on social networks, although the situation is slowly changing, especially among younger people.

The Belgium government has been proactive in strategically using social media as a platform of communication. There has been widespread use of social media campaigns driven through the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter. The main focus of these campaigns is to increase transparency and create conversation around political and social issues. Additionally, Belgian politicians have increased their social media usage which has assisted in the growth of public conversation.

In comparison to other nations, Belgium is quite advanced in the social media world and Belgians are increasingly using social media for social, business and governmental conversation – they are very much part of the global conversation.

III. Access

·       Internet penetration is above the European average and people typically access the web at home

·       Belgians primarily use the Internet for sending and receiving email

·       Men are more likely than women to use their cell phone several times a day

A high proportion (67%) of the Belgian population has access to the Internet and access is most prevalent in single parent families. Most people (60%) access the internet at home, while 27% of people typically access the web at work or school. The elderly population and the unemployed are the most inactive in terms of Internet use.

People in Belgium use the Internet to access an abundance of information and primarily use it for sending and receiving email. In addition, the Internet is commonly used to search for information such as where to shop, bank, play and download computer games, music and software, as well to listen to the radio or watch TV. The majority of people (94%) use a search engine to find information online, whilst 93% of people use an email or IM service. A large number (76%) of people use the Internet to read, listen or watch news and 60% for shopping online.

Cell phone usage in Belgium is high in comparison to other European nations with 9 out of 10 people own a cell phone. However, amongst certain socio-demographic groups cell phone ownership is low, in particular those with a low level of education, people aged over 54 and people who live alone.

Socio-demographic groups without a cell phone

·                  People with low level education – 26%

·                  People aged over 54 – 23%

·                  People who live alone – 20%

·                  The unemployed – 16%

·                  People living in rural areas – 13%

The majority (53%) of men use their cell phones several times day, whilst this is true of only 42% of women.

15-24 years olds are the group most likely (73%) to use their cell phones several times a day, whilst 25-54 year olds typically used their phones at least once a day and the over 55 year old age group were least likely.

Highly educated (52%) respondents are more likely than the uneducated (24%) to use their cell phone during the day. This trend continues and a greater number (20%) of uneducated people only use their phone once a week in comparison to just 12% of educated people. Data indicated that 40% of rural residents used a cell phone several times a day and this increased to 55% for respondents living in larger cities. Cell phone usage is lower in rural areas of Belgium with 28% of people using their phones less than once a day in comparison to just 17% of those living in larger cities.

The self-employed (69%) are the group of people most likely to use their cell phones several times a day followed by employees (56%), manual workers (49%) and the unemployed (37%). Additionally, a fifth of manual workers and employees used a mobile phone once a day compared to 17% of respondents who were not working.

Access to the Internet through mobiles in Belgium is quite low in comparison to other European countries with 10.5% of people gaining access through PDAs, 3% via GPRS and 1.5% through UMTS devices. In addition, there is minimal online activity regarding particular immigrant groups or communities.

IV.                     Activity

  • Social media activity is quite common in Belgium with Facebook and Myspace proving popular
  • The north of Belgium uses the Internet more often than the Wallonia southern region
  • The most popular online activities for Belgians are playing or downloading computer games, images, film, music or software

Internet users in the northern part of Belgium, specifically Flanders, use the Internet more often than the people of the south (Wallonia). The majority of Belgians (56 %) use the Internet daily for work, whilst 45% of people go online for banking and 35% for educational purposes.

Other popular online activities include playing or downloading computer games, images, films, music or software (49%), transferring content from the Internet to devices such as MP3 or game consoles (42%) and uploading or sharing content like videos and photos (41%).

Social Media Platforms

The 4 most popular social media destinations in Belgium

  • Manoeuvre
  • Zattevrienden
  • Asfaltkonijn
  • Blogtendances

Social media activity in Belgium is quite common with sites such as Facebook or MySpace proving popular. It could be postulated that while email and IM are primary sources of communication with friends and colleagues, people often make informal connections with their peers through social networking sites.

Netlog, Belgium’s largest social networking site has 2,800,000 users who are mostly people between the ages of 14-25. Facebook is also commonly used, and has around 2,300,000 users and with a older demographic. Linked In, a business networking site is used mainly by professionals looking for employment, networking, or those who are hoping to reconnect with past colleagues. The microblogging site Twitter is used by people in Belgium; however, it is not as popular as social networking sites Facebook or Netlog.

Social Media

NGOs in Belgium do use social media and a recent example is the Organization to Prevent Suicide, which launched a campaign to recruit night volunteers to run its helpline service. A video has been launched via social and offline media in an attempt to increase the numbers of volunteers. To facilitate this campaign the organization is active across a range of social networking platforms including Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Netlog, Linked In, Slideshare, as well as a blog.

V. Organizational use

  • An increasing number of businesses have a social media presence, with Facebook proving popular
  • There is an active community of bloggers who meet up and network, however online news sources and e-newsletters remain more popular than blogs
  • The government has used social media for public education campaigns aimed at young people

With the steady growth of social networking sites within Belgium, many organizations have become more transparent online with their company profile and image. Whilst, most companies and SME’s have a Facebook or Twitter presence, they are not actively used for communications campaigns, instead they are used to broadcast news.

With regards to online opinion and conversation, the blogging utility is quite common within Belgium. Blogger communities organize meetings or events to share experiences and knowledge in order to discuss future blogging trends. For example, a blogger dinner was set up in Ghent in June 2009 while a photo blogger meeting was organized in Leuven in September 2009. Whilst, there is an active community of bloggers, there is a trend for Belgians to look for confirmation of what they read online in print media. As a result, the number popular blogs is low and e-magazines of established news sources remain popular.


The Belgian government has used social media to launch several of its educational campaigns and a recent example is the launch of a road safety campaign called “The Will of (Hey testament van)”. This was designed to promote road safety for younger people between the ages of 18-24 years. To generate traffic and conversation, a Facebook campaign was launched that allowed people to select the most reckless drivers on their friend list, and then create a will, which would mention what people would like to inherit from their friends. In addition, flyers were also handed out to this age group at stop lights while driving. The Belgian government also used popular social networking site Netlog to promote the campaign with a brand page where people could become friends with the campaign and write messages to start an online conversation. A poll was produced which proposed the question, “Do you know a reckless driver?” A press conference organized at the University of Brussels kicked off the campaign, and both VRT and VTM (Flanders main TV stations) covered the event. In addition, the radio station Studio Brussells and Q- Music spent time reviewing the campaign which reached the target audience.  Furthermore, the website Humo and blog Zattevrienden put the video online which created a lot of attention.

In addition, a significant number of Belgian politicians are engaging with social media and have Facebook fan pages, blogs, twitter accounts and personal websites. Some of the most high profile politicians include Minister of Climate and Energy for the Federal Government, Paul Magnette, Minister for Enterprise, Vincent Van Quickenborne and Senator for Voorzitter, Geert Lambert. A number of parties also have a social media presence on Twitter including Groen, SP.A and Open Vld.

The 5 most popular news and media websites in Belgium

  • Zita – 50,610,000 visitors per month
  • Het Laatse nieuws – 41,985,270 visitors per month
  • Het Nieuwsblad – 37,178,218 visitors per month
  • De Standaard – 28,079,512 visitors per month
  • DeMorgen – 2 881 578 visitors per month


A general trend indicates that the Flemish government uses social media tools more often than the Wallonia government for communications campaigns. It could be postulated that this is normal since the people from the south have less access to the internet so different tools and media need to be used to reach them.

Belgian journalists are engaging in social media and many maintain a blog, Twitter account or Facebook page. Whilst, Twitter is the most popular social media tool used by journalists, Linked In is increasingly prevalent as it allows journalist to network with other industry professionals.  Most of the national newspapers (both French and Dutch speaking) have a website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter page.

There are some notable examples of government organizations using social media including the Leuven police inspector who set up a Facebook account to act as a forum between the police and the local student community. The Belgian government employs recruitment agency Selor to promote vacancies through Twitter and Facebook in order to attract more youngsters to work in government. However, in general people do not communicate directly with the Belgian government through social media, indeed there is minimal interaction between the two parties.


A large number of Belgian NGOs use social media as a way to communicate with their supporters. Greenpeace Belgium has a Facebook fan page, whilst anti-poverty charities Broederlijk delen (Facebook, Netlog and Youtube) and 11.11.11 (Youtube, Facebook, Flickr, and blogger) are active across a variety of social media platforms.

Social media has been effectively utilized in Belgium to mobilize support for a cause. Most recently Flemish radio stations worked together on 22 January 2010 to raise money for Haiti. The campaign was promoted through a variety of social media platforms and in a single day the campaign raised 4.3 million Euros.

VI.                     Legal and ethical

There are some basic principles of etiquette to social media engagement in Belgium and spamming blogs with messages that are too commercial or sending unsolicited emails is frowned upon. Over the last 12 months online privacy has become a big issue for Belgians with many concerned that Facebook may sell on personal information or images for commercial benefit. There have also been several instances of people being sacked or not being accepted for a job due to inappropriate comments or images on social networking sites.

Whilst, there are no specific rules or principles of etiquette pertaining to social media engagement in Belgium – the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s three-point code of conduct provides a sound basis for online behavior.

–                    Commitment to Integrity: Honesty, Disclosure & Identity

Always be who you say you are. Although you may find social media participants can sometimes be hostile towards organizations, you should never try to conceal your identity in order to build a better relationship. Social media is highly attuned to seek out deception and is fundamentally against this on all levels.

–                    Commitment to Community: Responsiveness, Generosity, Helpfulness & Collaboration

Remember to take part but also give back. In order to influence social media you must become a respected member of the community. This involves listening and responding as well as talking.

–                    Commitment to opinion: Respectfulness, Equality & Freedom of speech

Respect the views of others even if they don’t agree with yours or those of your organization. Social media provide forums in which groups can convene to hold open conversations. Organizations should be careful to avoid destabilizing or alienating communities by attempting to impose views, or limiting the scope of conversation. Aim to assert influence rather than control and take advantage of the open nature of conversation to learn more about your audiences and how to engage them.

VII.                   Local factors affecting digital content

Due to the multi language status of Belgium, social media is communicated through a variety of languages. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German. Most bloggers use French or Dutch, however many use English so they are able to reach more readers and viewers. Significantly, Dutch speaking Belgians generally write on blogs from a network in The Netherlands, whilst the French speaking community do so on networks in France. It is important to note the cultural sensitivity surrounding the different languages spoken in Belgium between the two main ethnic groups, the Flemings (Dutch speakers) and Walloons (French speakers). Whilst, many people are able to speak both languages they prefer to be communicated with in their own language online.

With regards to social media etiquette, ¾ of Belgians do not wait for someone to invite them to a network; they proactively join networks and expand their contacts list. Most bloggers are open to being approached if it is appropriate to their areas of interest. Results indicate that bloggers like knowing that their blogs are being read and discussed.

Belgians are amongst the most independent consumers in Europe and social networks as a communications channel have a low level of influence in comparison to other European nations. There is an undercurrent of skepticism towards interacting with brands through social networks, with 43% of people saying they wouldn’t want to. However, the situation may be changing and young Belgians (under 25) are twice as likely to be influenced by online advocacy. Typically, Belgians look for confirmation of what they read online in print media. Consequently, there are a low number of popular blogs, whilst e-magazines remain popular. The Belgian print media is well respected and has a strong influence on the mood of Belgian citizens.

VIII.                    Principal data sources

–                    Belgium: http://www.belgium.be

–                    Communicatie Vlaanderen : http://communicatie.vlaanderen.be

–                    Vlaanderem: http://www.vlaanderen.be

–                    IVB: http://lvb.net/item/1345

–                    Boondoggle: http://www.boondoggle.eu/#/case/1

–                    Hello Project: http://www.hello-project.be

–                    Kredietieuws: http://www.kredietnieuws.be

–                    Zdnet: http://www.zdnet.be/itprofessional/102887/overheid-werft-via-twitter-en-facebook/

–                    EC Europa: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/flash/fl_241_en.pdf


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