When Microsoft updated its Teams communication app with a more sophisticated way to give PowerPoint presentations in January, the company published a 500-word blog post on 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 published a video on Presenter Mode 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 topic.
“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 haven’t done quite as well.”
That might have to do with the reach of Microsoft’s products. The company held 86% of the email and authoring market in 2020, according to technology research firm Gartner, with 1.2 billion Office users.
Not every one of those 1.2 billion knows how to do everything in Office, though, and people also need to keep up with the latest updates that Microsoft pumps out. Videos from Stratvert and his YouTube contemporaries are helping with that — and sometimes getting more eyeballs than Microsoft’s official videos.
Much better off
Stratvert arrived at Microsoft in 2006, the same year Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion. His first YouTube video showed footage from a drone flying over a town in New Jersey. Then Stratvert filmed videos of his travels in the 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, a manager at the company. In the video description, he included a disclosure saying that 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 gives fast access to online versions of Excel spreadsheets and other Office documents. The site was not well known, especially compared with Office applications for PCs, so Stratvert and colleagues asked their peers in marketing if they could spread the word about Office.com. The 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 features of Microsoft Office free of charge. It performed 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 were watching and recognized that getting him to talk about their products could bring in new users, which in turn could mean more favorable employee reviews.
“It’s almost like teams appreciate that there’s this other outlet that’s kind of unofficial,” he said.
Then, in July 2020, months after the pandemic sent the Stratverts home, he gave up his position at Microsoft and began making five times as many videos as he was 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 such as Slack and Zoom.
YouTube users have hit the subscribe button. Today he has 85% more subscribers than the official Microsoft 365 YouTube channel focused on Teams and other Office applications, which he said has a team of 20 to 30 people producing content.
“Economically I’m much better off,” he said. His wife still works at Microsoft.
Promoting external creators
Historically, developing and maintaining products has been the core of Microsoft. Today nearly 50% of employees work in engineering. Marketing is a considerably smaller part of the business, and employees work on ads, materials for Microsoft’s website, events and other methods of promotion.
In the past few years, a group inside Microsoft began focusing more on YouTube.
“On YouTube specifically, we’re starting to explore the concept of what it looks like to do something native to YouTube,” Sonia Atchison, a market research lead who worked on the Microsoft Creators Program, said on a podcast last year.
People often turn to YouTube when they want to get a better understanding of Microsoft software, and while Microsoft has plenty of its own videos available on YouTube, they don’t always come up at the top of the site’s search results, Atchison said. Videos from outsiders can receive higher rankings.
Sometimes a video from a Microsoft employee might be there. The company does have employees with large audiences, including Mike Tholfsen, a 26-year company 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 working on different products learn how to build sizable YouTube channels, said Jon Levesque, who posted YouTube videos as a senior platform evangelist at Microsoft before taking a job at DocuSign in March. There were issues at times. Some employees asked why they were concentrating on a service owned by a top competitor, and teams didn’t always agree with everything that employee-creators said in videos, Levesque said.
The effort didn’t get far, and Microsoft began promoting videos from non-employees instead, with the establishment of the Microsoft Creators Program. The company started including outsiders’ videos in its video playlists, and it offered to use their videos for customer support. That 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 put the program on pause.
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 picking up skills in Excel and other software on the job, Gharani began teaching classes in person and online. She made her YouTube debut in 2016, with the hope of enhancing her filming skills.
The channel took off, and that brought in money, plus it drew more students to her premium courses, which her company, XelPlus, continues to offer. With the company growing, her husband left his position as a chief financial officer to join her. They brought on an editor and a writer, too.
Many of Gharani’s YouTube videos detail parts of Excel. That doesn’t mean she completely ignores the competition. 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 program manager said the team loved her video and offered to show her updates that were coming soon. The program manager didn’t tell her to make a video but instead wanted to see if she thought the enhancements would be video-worthy, Gharani said.
She said users might ascribe greater authority to YouTube creators who work at Microsoft, unlike her.
“People appreciate that they’re at Microsoft,” she said. “‘They must know what they’re saying. They’re not going to say it if it’s not true. That authority thing does come with it. But not a lot.”
It hasn’t stopped Gharani from growing into a major entity. She boasts more subscribers than almost all of Microsoft’s YouTube accounts. The Xbox channel remains a top attraction, with over 4 million subscribers.
Sele would love the type of YouTube success that Gharani and Stratvert have had. Videos of his that contain tips and tricks on Excel and other applications have received more than 1 million views, but he’s not an on-camera star. Sele, who makes videos from his RV after 25 years of exposure to Microsoft products as a director of information technology, narrates while giving all the visual attention to the video feed from his computer. He said he spends time carefully writing and editing scripts before hitting record. The YouTube money is enough to live on, he said.
He said he isn’t worried about competing with Microsoft. “They’ll crank out all this training, but it really isn’t training you can just hand to your employees,” he said. “It’s either too high-level or low-level.”
While YouTube has no shortage of software walk-throughs, YouTube is more than just a destination for careful learning. It’s a venue for entertainment. Gharani gets that.
“It’s more passive, they don’t have to really concentrate,” she said of people who watch her videos. “They can let themselves also think about other things and come back and just watch and still get something out of it. You can’t get that out of writing.”
She strives to keep her YouTube videos moving along at a fast pace. She doesn’t want the videos to be too boring. Otherwise she won’t have many people watching.
“It’s not necessary that they actually learn something, but they just see the potential that they could learn something, or they feel like they’ve learned something,” she said. Her online courses have a different purpose. There’s no background music, they’re slower, and there’s less of her talking on camera.
The thumbnail images for her videos on YouTube always show her face, and her channel uses her full name, rather than some jumble of words such as OfficeIsSuperGreat, which helps her work stand out in search results.
The same can be said about Stratvert’s channel.
But his videos can be longer. Some run well past 20 or 30 minutes. He keeps them from becoming tedious by talking about how he uses software inside his made-up corporation, the Kevin Cookie Company. In one video about holding webinars in Teams, Kerry Stratvert made an appearance, posing as a Kevin Cookie Company employee who wanted to air her concerns. As the person running the meeting, he turned off her microphone and camera, demonstrating what webinar hosts can do in that situation in real life.
For years she had called Stratvert’s YouTube channel a hobby and pointed out that he hadn’t recouped the investment in production equipment. She didn’t think he could ever go full time. Then, last year, he did.
“It’s done extremely well,” he said. “My wife looks at that — ‘Oh, man, working at home, cranking out a video a day, maybe I should do this, too. Maybe I should pull together videos.’ Same with her sister, too.”
Elon Musk says he won’t vote for Biden over Trump, calls Haley ‘pro-censorship’
Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., during a fireside discussion on artificial intelligence risks with Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, not pictured, in London, UK, on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. Sunak convened this week’s AI summit in an effort to position the UK at the forefront of global efforts to stave off the risks presented by the rapidly-advancing technology, which in the prime minister’s own words, could extend as far as human extinction. Photographer: Tolga Akmen/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
“I would not vote for Biden,” Musk said during a wide-ranging interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the DealBook Summit in New York. “I’m not saying I’d vote for Trump.”
When asked what he’d do if those were the two nominees, Musk said, “This is definitely a difficult choice here.”
Musk, who says he supported Barack Obama’s candidacy, has moved rightward in his politics in recent years, writing in a tweet last year that “today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists.”
While he hasn’t endorsed a specific candidate for the 2024 election, Musk said last year that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was his preferred choice at the time. He also hosted DeSantis’s campaign launch on X, formerly Twitter. More recently, Musk has said that Vivek Ramaswamy is “looking like a strong candidate.”
Musk told Sorkin on Wednesday that he disagrees with Ramaswamy on climate issues, but he shares some of the candidate’s views on government overreach and censorship. DeSantis’s name did not come up in the interview.
When asked if he could support Nikki Haley among the Republicans, Musk said no and described the former South Carolina governor as a “pro-censorship candidate.”
In terms of which party is more favorable towards freedom of speech, Musk said that “on balance, the Democrats appear to be more pro-censorship than Republicans,” which he characterized as a change from the past.
“We certainly get more complaints from the left than the right,” Musk said.
Elon Musk claims advertisers are trying to ‘blackmail’ him, says ‘Go f— yourself’
Tesla and SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk reacts during an in-conversation event with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London, Britain, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023.
Kirsty Wigglesworth | Reuters
Speaking at the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York on Wednesday, Elon Musk, the owner of social media site X (formerly Twitter), scoffed at advertisers threatening to leave the platform because of antisemitic posts he amplified there.
“If somebody’s gonna try to blackmail me with advertising? Blackmail me with money? Go f—yourself.” He added, “Don’t advertise.”
He also implied that fans of his, and of X, would boycott those advertisers in kind. He specifically took aim at Disney.
“The whole world will know that those advertisers killed the company and we will document it in great detail,” Musk threatened.
He also told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin, “I have no problem being hated. Hate away.”
In recent weeks, Musk has promoted and sometimes verbally endorsed what the White House called “antisemitic and racist hate” on X, formerly Twitter, the social media platform he owns and runs as CTO.
He called those tweets, “one of the most foolish if not the most foolish thing I’ve ever done on the platform.”
“I’m sorry for that tweet or post,” he said. He added, “I tried my best to clarify, six ways to Sunday, but you know at least I think over time it will be obvious that in fact, far from being antisemitic, I am in fact philosemitic.”
His inflammatory posts on the social media platform led large advertisers, including Disney, Apple, and many others, to suspend campaigns there, and drove some famous users away from the platform, including Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has denied that he is antisemitic, and said that on X, “Clear calls for extreme violence are against our terms of service and will result in suspension.”
He also traveled to Israel this week, where he met and spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Netanyahu said he wanted to “deradicalize” and “rebuild” Gaza, Musk offered to help. Musk told Sorkin on stage that his visit to Israel was planned before his tweets, and were not part of an “apology tour.” Previously, Musk had said he wanted to bring SpaceX satellite communications service to Israel and humanitarian organizations in Gaza.
Musk’s personal account on X currently displays a follower count of more than 164 million — though tech blog Mashable reported in August that a majority of Musk’s listed followers appeared to be inauthentic or inactive accounts.
Earlier on Wednesday, the UAW launched campaigns aimed at Tesla and 12 other automakers in the U.S. Sorkin asked Musk what that means for his EV business.
Musk espoused negative general views about unions and said they create a “lords and peasants” atmosphere at companies, and “naturally try to create negativity,” pitting workers against management.
He said, “Many people at Tesla have come up, gone from workign on the line to being in senior management and there is no lords and peasants — everyone eats at the same table.”
He also added, “If Tesla gets unionized, it will be because we deserve it and we failed in some way.”
At one point, Sorkin asked, “Do you feel like anybody has leverage over you?”
Musk replied, “If we make bad products that people don’t want to use, the users will vote with their resources and use something else. My companies are overseen by regulators. SpaceX, Starlink, Tesla – are overseen by cumulatively by…a few hundred regulators because we’re in 55 countries.”
Later, he noted that he complies with nearly all the regulations levied upon his companies, but “once in awhile” he disagrees with a regulation and would object to it and disobey. “I’m incredibly rule-following,” he claimed.
Sorkin asked, “How do you think about the leverage that the Chinese have over you?” alluding to Tesla’s factory there and the company’s reliance on Chinese consumers for a percentage of its sales. Sorkin added, “Is it hypocritical for you to be doing business in China, or other countries, as it relates to X and other things that don’t follow this free speech path that you have espoused?”
The CEO replied, “The best that the platform can do is adhere to the laws of any given country. Do you think there’s something more we can do than that?”
He later added that he believes the Chinese electric car companies are extremely competitive, and said that many people believe the top ten EV companies in the world will be Tesla and nine Chinese makers.
On OpenAI and its recent boardroom struggles, Musk said he had talked to a lot of people but had not found out what precisely led to the recent firing and then re-hiring of CEO Sam Altman. He also said he has “mixed feelings” about Altman personally, hinting that he feels like the OpenAI CEO has too much power. “The ring of power can corrupt.”
When it was founded, OpenAI’s original board included both Altman and Musk, but Musk left in 2018 after poaching a star engineer from the company to run Autopilot software engineering at Tesla.
Musk also said that he’s worried about the danger of AI harming humanity, and that he was “having trouble sleeping at night” because of it.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
FTC Chair Lina Khan defends her track record when it comes to blocking mergers and doesn’t subscribe to Amazon Prime
Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan speaks during The New York Times annual DealBook Summit in New York City on Nov. 29, 2023.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images
Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan defended her track record in court when it comes to blocking mergers, saying she believes the agency should take big swings and she’s “quite pleased” with the work it has done so far under her tenure, which started in June 2021.
Speaking at The New York Times DealBook Summit on Wednesday, Khan said that whenever the FTC brings a case, “you want to win it,” but that whenever there’s a loss, the agency will “try to figure out what went wrong.”
The FTC has had some high-profile losses during Khan’s tenure, including a failed attempt to block Facebook parent Meta from buying virtual reality company Within Unlimited. It also lost a fight to stop Microsoft‘s $69 billion acquisition of gaming giant Activision Blizzard, though the agency is still appealing the court ruling.
Under her leadership, Khan said the FTC has brought 11 cases against mergers, and in five instances, the companies abandoned their plans after the agency filed suit. There were 14 deals that were dropped during the FTC’s investigation, she added.
“Big picture, of course the two cases that we lost we would’ve wanted to win, but we’re quite pleased overall with our efforts,” Khan said on stage.
Khan is in the middle of what could be a career-defining antitrust case. In September, the FTC and 17 states sued Amazon, accusing the retail giant of wielding its “monopoly power” to artificially rise prices, degrade quality for shoppers and stifle competition. The lawsuit was long anticipated, as Khan rose to prominence for her 2017 Yale Law Journal article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”
Khan argued in the piece that the prevailing antitrust framework at the time, which focused primarily on monopolies’ harm to consumers, failed to capture the ways tech giants such as Amazon are able to dominate in the digital world even while offering lower prices and more selection to consumers.
The agency has also taken aim at Amazon’s Prime service, alleging it tricked users into signing up for the program and intentionally complicated the cancellation process. Amazon has disputed both of the FTC’s lawsuits, calling them “wrong on the facts and the law.”
In the interview Wednesday, Khan said she doesn’t subscribe to Prime, which costs $139 a year and includes perks such as free shipping, access to streaming content and discounts on Whole Foods groceries.
Asked why she hasn’t subscribed to Prime, Khan replied, “I just haven’t.”
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