Kevin Stratvert produces videos at home in Seattle.
When Microsoft updated its Teams communications app with a more sophisticated way of delivering PowerPoint presentations in January, the company published 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 consult YouTube.
On the video service owned by arch-rival Google, a former Microsoft employee named Kevin Stratvert posted a video on Presenter Mode to his more than 800,000 subscribers, receiving more than 1
“I’ve built a Microsoft audience,” Stratvert said in an interview with CNBC. “Microsoft content drives a lot more viewership than non-Microsoft content. I’ve done Gmail and a few others, but they have not done as well.”
It may have to do with the range of Microsoft products. The company had 86% of the email and author market in 2020, according to technology research firm Gartner, with 1.2 billion Office users.
Not all of these 1.2 billion know how to do everything in Office, and people also need to keep up with the latest updates that Microsoft is pumping out. Videos from Stratvert and his contemporaries on YouTube help with that – and sometimes get more eyeballs than Microsoft’s official videos.
Stratvert arrived at Microsoft in 2006, the same year Google bought YouTube for $ 1.65 billion. 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. Instructional videos and gadget review videos followed.
In 2017, he released his first Microsoft-related video, in which he toured wooden houses on the company’s campus with his wife, Kerry Stratvert, a leader of the company. In the video description, he included a revelation that said he was a Microsoft employee.
Two months after the wooden house video, Stratvert worked with 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 not known, especially compared to Office applications for PCs, so Stratvert and colleagues asked their marketing peers if they could spread the word about Office.com. The marketers did not have enough resources to help, Stratvert said.
So Stratvert produced a video showing how people can use Office.com to get most of the features of Microsoft Office for free. It worked well, and his manager told him he had done a good job.
He went on to make videos about Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Teams, Windows and Word. Microsoft employees on other teams noticed and started asking him to make videos about their products. They saw how many people watched and acknowledged that getting him to talk about their products could give new users, which in turn could mean more favorable reviews from employees.
“It’s almost like teams appreciate that it’s this second outing that’s a little unofficial,” he said.
In July 2020, months after the pandemic sent Stratvert home, he gave up his position at Microsoft and began making five times as many videos as he had before. He no longer needed to include revelations in videos that he was a Microsoft employee, and he could talk more freely about competing products such as Slack and Zoom.
YouTube users have pressed the subscribe button. Today, he has 85% more subscribers than the official Microsoft 365 YouTube channel focusing on Teams and other Office applications, which he said has a team of 20 to 30 people producing content.
“Financially, I feel much better,” he said. His wife still works for Microsoft.
Promote external creators
Historically, product development and maintenance has been at the core of Microsoft. Today, almost 50% of the employees work in engineering. Marketing is a significantly smaller part of the business, and employees work with ads, material for the Microsoft website, events and other marketing methods.
In recent years, a group in Microsoft began to focus more on YouTube.
“On YouTube specifically, we’re starting to explore the concept of what it looks like to do something natural for YouTube,” said Sonia Atchison, a market research leader who worked with the Microsoft Creators Program, in a podcast last year.
“People often turn to YouTube when they want a better understanding of Microsoft software, and while Microsoft has many videos of its own available on YouTube, they do not 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 may be there. The company has employees with a large audience, including Mike Tholfsen, a 26-year-old veteran with videos showing how teachers and students can use teams and other applications.
Microsoft wanted more like Tholfsen. The company formed a group to help people working on different products learn how to build great YouTube channels, said Jon Levesque, who posted YouTube videos as an evangelist in the Microsoft senior platform before joining DocuSign in March. There were occasional problems. Some employees asked why they concentrated on a service owned by a top competitor, and the teams did not always agree with everything the employees said in videos, Levesque said.
Efforts did not go far, and Microsoft began marketing videos from non-employees instead, with the creation of the Microsoft Creators Program. The company began to include outside videos in its video playlists, and offered to use their videos for customer support. This led to some additional video views, said Jason Sele, whose YouTube channel goes by the name Sele Training. In late June, Microsoft announced plans to suspend the program.
Among the dozens of people who joined the Creators Program, the most popular is Leila Gharani, a software instructor in Vienna, with over 900,000 subscribers. After gaining skills in Excel and other software at work, Gharani began teaching classes in person and online. She debuted on YouTube in 2016 with the hope of improving her film skills.
The channel took off, and it brought in money, plus it attracted more students to her premium course, which her company, XelPlus, continues to offer. As the company grew, her husband left the position of CFO to join her. They also brought in an editor and a writer.
Many of Gharani’s YouTube videos describe parts of Excel. That does not mean she ignores the competition completely. One of her more 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 presenter said that the team loved her video and offered to show her updates that were coming soon. The host did not ask 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 assign greater authority to YouTube creators working at Microsoft, unlike her.
“People appreciate being with Microsoft,” she said. “‘They need to know what they’re saying. They’re not going to say it if it’s not true. That authority thing comes with it. But not much.”
Jason Sele makes YouTube videos from a high-tech motorhome.
That has not stopped Gharani from growing into a large entity. She has more subscribers than almost all of Microsoft’s YouTube accounts. The Xbox channel remains a top attraction, with over 4 million subscribers.
Sele will love the kind of YouTube success that Gharani and Stratvert have had. Videos of him containing tips and tricks for Excel and other applications have received more than 1 million views, but he is not a star on camera. Sele, who makes videos from his camper after 25 years of exposure to Microsoft products as director of information technology, tells while giving all the visual attention to the video feed from the computer. He said he spends time writing and editing scripts carefully before hitting the record. The YouTube money is enough to live on, he said.
He said he is not worried about competing with Microsoft. “They want to screw up all this training, but it’s not really training you can just give to your employees,” he said. “It’s either too high or too low.”
Although YouTube does not lack software reviews, YouTube is more than just a goal for careful learning. It is a place of entertainment. Gharani gets it.
“It’s more passive, they do not really have to concentrate,” she said of people watching her videos. “They can also think of other things and come back and just look at and still get something out of it. You can’t get it out of writing.”
She tries to keep her YouTube videos at a fast pace. She does not want the videos to be too boring. Otherwise, she will not have many people watching.
“It’s not necessary that they actually learn anything, but they just see the potential for them to learn something, or they feel they have learned something,” she said. Her online course has a different purpose. There is no background music, they are slower, and there is less she talks in the camera.
Thumbnails for her videos on YouTube always show her face, and her channel uses her full name, instead of some jumble of words like OfficeIsSuperGreat, which helps her stand out in the search results.
The same can be said about Stratvert’s channel.
But his videos may be longer. Some run well over 20 or 30 minutes. He prevents them from getting bored by talking about how he uses software in his composite company, the Kevin Cookie Company. In a video about holding a webinar in Teams, Kerry Stratvert appeared, posing as an employee of the Kevin Cookie Company who wanted to air her concerns. As the person who ran the meeting, he turned off the microphone and camera and demonstrated what webinar hosts can do in that real-life situation.
For years, she had called Stratvert’s YouTube channel a hobby and pointed out that he had not repaid the investment in production equipment. She did not think he could ever go full time. So, last year, he did.
“It has been done very well,” he said. “My wife looks at it -” Oh, man, works at home, pulls out a video a day, maybe I should do this too. Maybe I should pull together videos. “Same with the sister too.”
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