Kevin Stratvert produces videos in his Seattle home.

Tara Brown

When Microsoft updated its Teams communications app in January with a more sophisticated way to showcase PowerPoint presentations, the company released a 500-word blog post about this feature. People could read the blog post and try to figure out how to use it, or they could consult YouTube.

On arch-rival Google’s video service, a former Microsoft employee named Kevin Stratvert posted a video about Presenter Mode for his more than 800,000 subscribers, which received more than 180,000 views and hundreds of comments. Microsoft itself had not released a video on the subject.

“I’ve built a Microsoft audience,” Stratvert said in an interview with CNBC. “Microsoft content gets a lot more viewers than non-Microsoft content. I’ve done Gmail and a few others, but they didn’t do that well. “

That may have something to do with the reach of Microsoft products. According to technology research firm Gartner, with 1.2 billion Office users in 2020, the company held 86% of the email and authoring market.

Not all of those 1.2 billion know how to do everything in Office, however, and people also have to keep up with the latest updates Microsoft is putting out. Videos from Stratvert and its YouTube contemporaries help – and sometimes get more exposure than Microsoft’s official videos.

Much better off

Stratvert joined Microsoft in 2006, and Google acquired YouTube for $ 1.65 billion in the same year. His first YouTube video showed footage of a drone flying over a city in New Jersey. Then Stratvert filmed videos of his travels in Puget Sound and beyond. How-to videos and gadget review videos followed.

In 2017, he published his first Microsoft-related video, in which he and his wife, Kerry Stratvert, a manager of the company, visited tree houses on the company’s premises. In the video description, he added a disclosure that said he was a Microsoft employee.

Two months after the treehouse video, Stratvert was working on the small development team behind Office.com, a website that provides quick access to online versions of Excel spreadsheets and other Office documents. The site was unknown, especially when compared to Office applications for PCs, so Stratvert and colleagues asked their marketing colleagues if they could distribute Office.com. The marketers didn’t have enough resources to help, Stratvert said.

Stratvert therefore produced a video showing how to use Office.com to use most of Microsoft Office’s features for free. It went well and his manager told him he did a good job.

He then shot videos across Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Teams, Windows and Word. Microsoft employees on other teams noticed and asked him to make videos about their products. They saw a lot of people watching and realized that getting him to talk about their products could bring new users, which in turn could mean more positive reviews from employees.

“It’s almost like the teams appreciate that there is this other outlet that is kind of unofficial,” he said.

Then, in July 2020, months after the pandemic sent the Stratverts home, he left his position at Microsoft and started making five times as many videos as before. He no longer had to show off videos that he was a Microsoft employee and he could talk more freely about competing products like Slack and Zoom.

YouTube users clicked the subscribe button. Today he has 85% more subscribers than Microsoft 365’s official YouTube channel, which focuses on Teams and other Office applications and which he said has a team of 20 to 30 people producing content.

“Economically, I am doing much better,” he said. His wife still works at Microsoft.

Promotion of external YouTubers

Historically, product development and maintenance has been the core of Microsoft. Today almost 50% of the employees work in mechanical engineering. Marketing is a much smaller part of business, and employees work on ads, Microsoft website materials, events, and other promotional methods.

In the past few 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 looks like to do something native YouTube,” said Sonia Atchison, a research director who worked on the Microsoft Creators program, on a podcast last year.

People often turn to YouTube for a better understanding of Microsoft software, and while Microsoft makes many of its own videos available on YouTube, they don’t always appear at the top of the site’s search results, Atchison said. Videos from outsiders can get higher rankings.

Sometimes a video from a Microsoft employee can be seen there. The company has employees with a large audience, including Mike Tholfsen, a 26-year-old corporate veteran whose videos show how teachers and students can use teams and other applications.

Microsoft wanted more people like Tholfsen. The company formed a group to help people who work on various products build great YouTube channels, said Jon Levesque, who published YouTube videos as a senior platform evangelist at Microsoft before joining DocuSign in March . There were problems at times. Some employees asked why they focused on a service from a top competitor, and teams didn’t always agree with everything the employee creators said in videos, Levesque said.

Efforts didn’t get far, and Microsoft instead began setting up the Microsoft Creators Program to promote videos from non-employees. The company started adding outsider videos to its video playlists and offered to use their videos for customer support. That led to some additional video views, said Jason Sele, whose YouTube channel is called Sele Training. At the end of June, Microsoft announced that it would pause the program.

Among the dozen of people who have joined the Creators program, the most popular one is Leila Gharani, a software teacher in Vienna, with over 900,000 subscribers. After gaining knowledge of Excel and other software on the job, Gharani began teaching courses in person and online. She made her YouTube debut in 2016 in hopes of improving her film skills.

The station picked up speed and that made money and attracted more students to their premium courses, which their company XelPlus continues to offer. As the company grew, her husband left his position as CFO to join her. They also brought an editor and a writer.

Many of Gharani’s YouTube videos describe parts of Excel. That doesn’t mean that it completely ignores the competition. One of their most popular videos in 2020 was called “Google Sheets BEATS Excel with THESE 10 Features!”

Like Stratvert, Gharani has heard from Microsoft employees. After she posted a video on the Whiteboard app, a program manager said the team loved her video and offered to show her any updates soon. The program manager didn’t tell her to make a video, but instead wanted to see if she thought the improvements were video-worthy, Gharani said.

She said users could place greater authority on YouTube creators who work at Microsoft as opposed to her.

“People really appreciate being with Microsoft,” she said. “‘You have to know what they’re saying. You won’t say it if it’s not true. That authority thing comes with it. But not much.”

Jason Sele makes YouTube videos of a high-tech RV.

Jason Sele

It didn’t stop Gharani from growing into a big company. It has more subscribers than almost any of Microsoft’s YouTube accounts. The Xbox channel remains a top attraction with over 4 million subscribers.

Sele would love the kind of YouTube success Gharani and Stratvert had. Videos of him containing tips and tricks about Excel and other applications have received more than 1 million views, but he’s not a star on camera. Sele, who is making videos from his RV after 25 years of experience with Microsoft products as the director of information technology, tells while all his visual attention is focused on his computer’s video feed. He said he spends time carefully writing and editing scripts before clicking record. The YouTube money is enough to live on, he said.

He said he wasn’t worried about competing with Microsoft. “You will be doing all of this training, but it’s really not training that you can just give to your employees,” he said. “It’s either too high or too low.”

entertainment

While YouTube is not lacking in software walkthroughs, YouTube is more than just a destination for thorough learning. It’s a place of entertainment. Gharani understands that.

“It’s more passive, you don’t really have to focus,” she said of people watching her videos. “You can get other things thought about and come back and just watch and still make something out of it. You can’t get out of writing.”

She is eager to move her YouTube videos forward quickly. She doesn’t want the videos to be too boring. Otherwise she won’t have many people.

“They don’t need to actually learn anything, but they just see the potential to learn, or they feel like they have learned,” she said. Your online courses have 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 videos on YouTube always show her face and her channel uses her full name instead of words like OfficeIsSuperGreat, which helps make her work stand out in search results.

The same can be said of the Stratvert Canal.

But his videos can be longer. Some run well over 20 or 30 minutes. He keeps them from getting bored by talking about how he uses software in his made-up company, the Kevin Cookie Company. In a video about hosting webinars in teams, Kerry Stratvert appeared posing as a Kevin Cookie Company employee raising concerns. As the person leading the meeting, he turned off their microphone and camera and demonstrated what webinar hosts can do in real life in this situation.

For years she had called the Stratvert YouTube channel a hobby and pointed out that it had not amortized the investment in production equipment. She didn’t think he could ever work full time. Then last year he did.

“That worked out very well,” he said. “My wife is watching this – ‘Oh, man, work at home, shoot a video every day, maybe I should do that too. Maybe I should put videos together. ‘ The same goes for her sister. “

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