AUSTIN, TX: The Hershey Company, the confectionery group, is tapping into the idea of the "choice economy" as it seeks to drive earned media among consumers.

Marty Baker, the firm's senior manager/global digital content, discussed this notion on a panel session at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.

And it is a topic that has been of considerable recent interest following Ellen DeGeneres's "selfie" at the 2014 Oscars, which soon became a viral sensation, as well as the popularity of online feline stars such as "Grumpy Cat".

For Baker, these examples are the current high water mark of what can be achieved with earned media. (For more, including details of how Reese's leveraged its tie-up with the NCAA, read Warc's exclusive report: How Hershey is approaching earned media.)

They also demonstrate why giving consumers content they actively want – rather than only distributing material that brands want them to have – is vital. Baker framed this debate by referencing the "choice economy".

"I look through the lens of the company, which needs to get messages across about their brands, new product introductions, changes, whatever," he said. "But I [also] look through the lens of the consumer, and my lens has always been: what would they want to make a choice to watch … and how long would they want to watch it."

Alongside initiatives forming part of its flagship campaigns, Hershey is fortunate that it is able to consistently reach out to internet users with recipes – which are both valued and shareable.

"For us, a lot of stuff in terms of video can be recipes, because the amount of recipes that people create at Hershey's is incredible."

Regularly uploading this material to Facebook has allowed Hershey to set some basic benchmarks and expectations, too.

"I know, pretty much, if I put a Reese's brand and a recipe on Facebook what I'm going to get in terms of stories," said Baker.

And the simplicity of this type of content is no barrier to it gaining significant viral traction. "At one point, I remember, I think it was over 60,000 'Likes' for a cake," he added.

Data sourced from Warc