Kevin Stratvert produces videos at his home in Seattle.
When Microsoft updated its Teams communications app with a more sophisticated way to give PowerPoint presentations in January, the company posted a 500-word blog post about the feature. People could read the blog post and try to figure out how to use it, or they could check out YouTube.
On the video service owned by its big rival Google, a former Microsoft employee named Kevin Stratvert posted a Presenter mode video to his more than 800,000 subscribers, garnering more than 180,000 views and hundreds of comments. Microsoft itself had not published a video on the subject.
“I built a Microsoft audience,” Stratvert said in an interview with CNBC. “Microsoft content generates a lot more audience than non-Microsoft content. I’ve done Gmail and a few others, but they haven’t done as well.”
This could be related to the reach of Microsoft products. The company held 86% of the email and creative market in 2020, according to technology research firm Gartner, with 1.2 billion Office users.
However, not all of those 1.2 billion can do it all in Office, and people also need to keep up to date with the latest updates Microsoft is releasing. Videos of Stratvert and his contemporaries on YouTube contribute to this – and sometimes attract more attention than official Microsoft videos.
Stratvert arrived at Microsoft in 2006, the same year Google acquired YouTube for $ 1.65 billion. His first YouTube video showed footage of a drone hovering over a town in New Jersey. Next, Stratvert filmed videos of his travels in Puget Sound and beyond. How-to videos and gadget review videos followed.
In 2017, he posted his first Microsoft-related video, in which he toured treehouses on the company’s campus with his wife, Kerry Stratvert, director of the company. In the description of the video, he included a disclosure saying he was an employee of Microsoft.
Two months after the treehouse video, Stratvert was working in the small development team behind Office.com, a website that gives quick access to online versions of Excel spreadsheets and other Office documents. . The site was not well known, especially compared to Office PC apps, so Stratvert and his colleagues asked their marketing peers if they could market Office.com. Marketers didn’t have enough resources to help, Stratvert said.
So Stratvert produced a video showing how people could use Office.com to get most of the functionality of Microsoft Office for free. He performed well and his manager told him he had done a good job.
He then made videos on Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Teams, Windows and Word. Microsoft employees from other teams noticed him and started asking him to make videos about their products. They saw how many people were watching and recognized that getting them talked about their products might attract new users, which could mean more favorable reviews from employees.
“It’s almost like the teams are enjoying that there is this other outlet that is unofficial,” he said.
Then, in July 2020, months after the pandemic sent the Stratverts home, he quit his job at Microsoft and started making five times as many videos as before. He no longer needed to include disclosures in videos that he was a Microsoft employee, and he could talk more freely about competing products like Slack and Zoom.
YouTube users hit the subscribe button. Today, he has 85% more subscribers than the official Microsoft 365 YouTube channel focused on teams and other Office apps, which he says has a team of 20 to 30 people producing content.
“Economically, I am much better,” he said. His wife still works at Microsoft.
Promote external creators
Historically, product development and maintenance has been at the heart of Microsoft. Today, nearly 50% of employees work in engineering. Marketing is a considerably smaller part of the business, and employees work on advertisements, Microsoft website material, events, and other promotional methods.
In recent years, a group within Microsoft has started to focus more on YouTube.
“On YouTube in particular, we’re starting to explore the concept of what it’s like to do something native to YouTube,” said Sonia Atchison, market research manager who worked on the Microsoft Creators program, on a podcast. Last year.
People often turn to YouTube when they want to better understand Microsoft software, and although Microsoft has plenty of videos on YouTube, they don’t always appear at the top of the site’s search results, Atchison said. Videos of strangers may receive higher ratings.
Sometimes a video of a Microsoft employee may be present. The company has employees with a large following, including Mike Tholfsen, a 26-year veteran of the company whose videos show how teachers and students can use Teams and other apps.
Microsoft wanted more people like Tholfsen. The company has formed a group to help people working on different products learn how to create large YouTube channels, said Jon Levesque, who posted YouTube videos as a senior evangelist at Microsoft before working at DocuSign in March. Sometimes there were problems. Some employees asked why they were focusing on a service owned by a top competitor, and teams didn’t always agree with everything the employee-creators were saying in the videos, Levesque said.
The effort didn’t go far, and Microsoft began promoting non-employee videos instead, with the creation of the Microsoft Creators Program. The company started including videos of strangers in its video playlists and offered to use their videos for customer support. This led to a few more video views, said Jason Sele, whose YouTube channel is called Sele Training. At the end of June, Microsoft announced its intention to put the program on hiatus.
Of the dozens of people who have joined the Creators Program, the most popular is Leila Gharani, a software trainer in Vienna, with over 900,000 subscribers. After learning skills in Excel and other software on the job, Gharani began teaching in-person and online. She made her YouTube debut in 2016, hoping to improve her filming skills.
The channel has taken off, and it’s made money, in addition to attracting more students to its premium courses, which its company, XelPlus, continues to offer. As the business grew, her husband left his role as CFO to join her. They also brought in an editor and a writer.
Many of Gharani’s YouTube videos detail parts of Excel. That’s not to say that it completely ignores the competition. One of his most popular videos in 2020 was called “Google Sheets BAT Excel with CES 10 Features!”
Like Stratvert, Gharani has heard from Microsoft employees. After posting a video to the Whiteboard app, a program manager said the team liked their video and offered to show them upcoming updates. The program manager didn’t tell her to make a video, but instead wanted to see if she thought the improvements would be video-worthy, Gharani said.
She said users could attribute more authority to YouTube creators who work at Microsoft, while she doesn’t.
“People appreciate that they are at Microsoft,” she said. “‘They have to know what they’re saying. They won’t say it if it’s not true. This thing of authority comes with it. But not much.”
Jason Sele creates YouTube videos from a high-tech motorhome.
This did not stop Gharani from becoming a major entity. She has more subscribers than almost any Microsoft YouTube account. The Xbox channel remains a top attraction, with over 4 million subscribers.
Sele would love the kind of YouTube success that Gharani and Stratvert have had. His videos containing tips and tricks on Excel and other apps have been viewed over a million times, but he’s no camera star. Sele, who shoots videos from his motorhome after 25 years of exposure to Microsoft products as a CIO, tells the story while paying full visual attention to the video stream from his computer. He said he spent time writing and carefully editing scripts before breaking a record. YouTube’s money is enough to live on, he said.
He said he was not afraid to compete with Microsoft. “They’re going to launch all this training, but it’s really not training that you can just pass on to your employees,” he said. “It’s either a level too high or a level too low.”
While YouTube has no shortage of step-by-step software, YouTube is more than just a destination for thoughtful learning. It is a place of entertainment. Gharani understands this.
“It’s more passive, they don’t really need to focus,” she said of the people watching her videos. “They can also let themselves think of other things and come back and just watch and still get something out of it. You can’t take that out of the writing.”
She strives to advance her YouTube videos at a rapid pace. She doesn’t want the videos to be too boring. Otherwise, she won’t have many people to watch.
“They don’t have to actually learn something, but they just see the potential that they might learn something, or they feel like they’ve learned something,” she said. Its online courses serve a different purpose. There is no background music, they are slower and she speaks less in front of the camera.
The thumbnail images of her YouTube videos always show her face, and her channel uses her full name, rather than a jumble of words like OfficeIsSuperGreat, which helps her stand out in search results.
The same can be said about the Stratvert chain.
But his videos can be longer. Some run well beyond 20 or 30 minutes. He keeps them from getting boring by talking about how he uses software at his invented company, the Kevin Cookie Company. In a video about hosting webinars in Teams, Kerry Stratvert made an appearance, posing as a Kevin Cookie Company employee who wanted to voice her concerns. As the meeting manager, he turned off his microphone and camera, demonstrating what webinar hosts can do in this situation in real life.
For years, she had called Stratvert’s YouTube channel a hobby and pointed out that he had not recouped the investment in production equipment. She didn’t think he could ever go full time. Then, last year, he did.
“It is extremely well done,” he said. “My wife is watching this – ‘Oh, man, work at home, shoot a video a day, maybe I should do that too. Maybe I should put some videos together.’ Ditto with his sister too. “
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