Spreadsheets are now cool, thanks to TikTok
The writer is the author of ‘You’re the Business: How to build a success carrier when you strike out alone’
When Emma Chieppor, 25, started a new job as an actuary, she struggled to use Excel. Working remotely from her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she ended up learning on her own using YouTube videos.
Once she mastered the Microsoft spreadsheet program, Chieppor loved how much it made her more efficient at her job. In May 2021, she started posting videos on TikTok under the handle @exceldictionaryoffering help to those who struggle with spreadsheets.
Within a week, one of his videos – a 25-second “flash fill” tutorial – went viral and his account amassed 100,000 subscribers. Four months later, she was at 1 million followers on TikTok and today she has over 3.6 million followers on social media.
Chieppor is part of a generation of “Excel influencers” who have emerged over the past two years teaching spreadsheet skills in bite-sized videos. The growing trend of “micro-learning”, workers’ thirst for self-improvement, as well as the inability to acquire software skills informally from their colleagues through working from home, mean that the influence of Excel is booming.
The #Excel hashtag has over 3 billion views on TikTok. As Chieppor puts it, she wanted to “teach people Excel while doing something they were already doing – scrolling through their TikTok feeds.”
One of the first Excel accounts on TikTok was that of Kat Norton @miss.excel page at the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the former management consultant was stuck in her childhood bedroom, unable to get around for work. She was already teaching Excel as a side project and decided to try posting tips on a TikTok account after a friend suggested it.
“I said, ‘I can’t do TikTok, I’m 27,'” she says. “Then I looked around and saw no one else was doing it. And I thought there might be a market for it.
Norton created videos of herself dancing to pop music, overlaid on a screen recording of her Excel functions, and began posting them daily. She now has more than 700,000 followers on TikTok, as well as nearly 600,000 on Instagram. In her biography, she is called Chief Excel Officer.
According to Norton, the best performing videos are those that cover essential Excel functions, such as fill flash and keyboard shortcuts. She also has a recurring skit of her playing a boss asking a worker to perform an arduous manual task, which they then complete in record time thanks to their newfound knowledge of Excel.
“The average daily Excel user is not the power user,” says Norton. “So when you touch on that basic stuff, the things that people do every day manually are the [videos] that go viral.
Freelance content creators aren’t the only ones making a name for themselves in the Excel community on TikTok. Mike Tholfsen is a Senior Group Product Manager for Microsoft Education and manages a TikTok account (@mtholfsen) with 1.3 million subscribers. He shares what he calls MicroTips, a portmanteau of “Microsoft tips.” He says his Excel content is the most popular; a recent tutorial demonstrating the text-to-column function has over 270,000 views.
“TikTok is about fleeting discovery,” says Tholfsen. “You can go to YouTube to find out how to do something, but on TikTok you learn something you didn’t expect.”
Tholfsen adds that he thinks Excel tips work so well on TikTok because it’s an ideal tool for micro-learning. “The pandemic, and TikTok to a lesser extent, has started to teach people that this microscopic content can resonate very well,” he says. “Not everyone wants the ’30 minutes, sit down and get’.”
Microsoft’s flagship spreadsheet program was launched in September 1985. The software maker does not provide figures on the number of Excel users, but in August 2021 Microsoft 365, the software suite that includes Excel , had more than 300 million paid commercial licenses. On LinkedIn, there are more than one million job postings worldwide for positions that require proficiency in Excel.
Although the software is an office staple, a survey of 1,000 UK employees by London-based training company Acuity Training suggested that less than half of office workers (48%) had received training. formal in Excel. Additionally, on average, workers surveyed needed help from colleagues twice a week with an Excel issue, which remote working made difficult.
“I’ve always found formal Excel lessons to be really dry and boring – I don’t think there’s any other way to put it,” says La-Tequl Edmonds, 33. The human resources specialist, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, relies on Excel and has found the TikTok tutorials much more useful. “What amused me was that people put their own spin on Excel content by putting it to music and using props. When I saw these videos, I was like, ‘This is my speed “.
Microsoft recently named Norton, @miss.excel, one of its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs), an award given to “technology experts and community leaders who actively support technical communities through sharing unique, innovative and coherent knowledge”. She now offers a range of online courses, including a $297 Excel one.
Edmonds took one such course, which his company paid for as part of his training and development. She was recently promoted and credits her Excel skills with helping her confidence at work. “All my recognition before the promotion was because I met the parameters,” says Edmonds. “And I think I was able to do that with these newly acquired skills.”
Meanwhile, Chieppor has partnered with digital media company Morning Brew and plans to expand its Excel Dictionary brand into new formats. One of the early adopters of her account, Korrin Perry, research and development analyst at NielsenIQ, says that through Chieppor’s videos, she was able to show her boss how to use Excel functions. She says, “I feel more confident putting ‘Proficient Excel’ on my resume.”