When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in early 2020, it left many of us stuck at home, looking for things to do. Some people baked, others binge-watched TV shows, and many tried out new hobbies. And plenty of us spent way too much time on social media.
And then there’s 25-year-old Emma Chieppor, a Pittsburgh actuary who turned her own love of social media into an influencer venture (Excel Dictionary) that has attracted more than 3 million followers in less than a year. (How is your pandemic hobby going?)
For Emma—who got her start as a social influencer posting fashion photos to Instagram in college—it’s all about tapping into the fun and creativity of social platforms to teach people helpful technology skills.
“I was no longer feeling fulfilled within the fashion influencing industry, and I wanted to help educate others—to truly make a difference in people’s lives,” Emma said. “I decided to use social media to teach people about technology in a fun way, to help them feel more confident at work. My goal is to get people to see Excel the way I do, as a really cool tool that can be used for anything.”
We talked to Emma about the arc of her meteoric social media career, the secrets to her success, and how the Office Insider program has helped her assist millions of Excel users in growing their skills, one TikTok or Insta post at a time.
What was your genesis/inspiration for launching Excel Dictionary?
Emma: In college, my friends and I would dress up and go out and take pictures in our free time. And then, brands began to reach out to us and offer to send us free clothes in exchange for posting a picture wearing them. We thought it was the coolest thing ever—we were broke college students getting sent free clothes. It was a lot of fun.
Then, I graduated from Ohio State and started working as an actuary, so I moved away from fashion influencing to focus on my career. I also have to take very difficult math exams to be an actuary, so that took up a lot of my time.
In 2020, I got a new job and moved back to Pittsburgh. I was working remotely because of the pandemic. So I was working alone at home, and I didn’t really know how to use Excel. I only knew my boss at work, and I didn’t want to ask him basic Excel questions—he was already really busy.
So I just began Googling everything and just kind of teaching myself everything I could. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and read some Excel blogs. And after a year of working at my job, using Excel to price Medicare Advantage plans, I felt like I had truly mastered Excel.
Around that time, I was starting to miss working with social media and creating content. I liked being an actuary—it’s really challenging work—but I missed being creative. So I was trying to think of ways that I could combine the two to truly help people, to create a niche that educated others.
So, about 10 months ago, I decided I would start an Excel TikTok account. And once I learned I could post my videos to Instagram (through Reels), I added that. TikTok grew a lot faster initially, but eventually Instagram took off as well. Now I’m working on getting my content on YouTube too.
What is the Excel content that resonates most with your audience?
I think a lot of my most viral videos are the tricks and formulas that automate things easily. Something like flash fill—people watch my video and they’re just like, “Wow! How did Excel do that?” Also, posts about series, like creating a date series. You know, where you click a few buttons and boom—there’s a full series that Excel just created somehow. Those typically do really well.
Just how popular are we talking?
I think my most popular video is at like 40.3 million views now across all platforms.
I know! I was shocked to see how many people I could reach with one video. I didn’t even know there were 40.3 million people out there watching Excel videos. It’s crazy. That video was about combining the Alt+HOA and Alt+HOI keyboard shortcuts to quickly auto-fit the size of rows and columns to your data. It’s a huge fan favorite.
What’s your “special sauce”—the key to your rapid growth on social?
I think there’s a few different aspects. Being an actuary, I look at trends in insurance prices and work with numbers all the time. So my first rule of thumb is to look at what’s trending—hashtags and stuff—and also which of my past videos have done well. Then, I take those topics and create a spinoff, and think of ways I can improve on it. Maybe make it a little more interesting.
Then, I try to personalize my content. It’s a little bit hard to do that with TikTok because you can’t do stories, you can’t have the cover photos. With Instagram, I feel like personalizing my content has really helped me grow quickly—putting myself in stories, and posting pictures of myself whenever I can.
And also, consistency’s really big; I try to post three to four times a week. That’s a huge factor. If you don’t post, you just kind of roll out of the feed and die down, and it’s going to take a while to pick back up. So I just try to stay consistent.
How does the Office Insider program help you in your work?
I think it’s a great way to learn about the new features that are being released. Because that’s one thing that I kind of struggled with; I didn’t really know what was being released and when. I would just randomly see a new feature one day and I would be like, “Oh, when did that get there?” So Office Insider is a good way to know what’s new, what’s coming out, and what the updates are.
I’ve also enjoyed being able to connect with Microsoft, so you can easily ask questions and get to know the new features. I’ve personally been able to give feedback on how you can improve Excel, which I think is really cool.
As your social channels have exploded in popularity during the last year, what has been your biggest challenge?
I think the hardest part for me has been “impostor syndrome.” When I started, I was like, “Am I really qualified to teach Excel? I taught myself everything; am I really an expert, or do I just know how to work a few formulas? Are people going to call me out for that type of thing?” And I was only 24 when I started.
But honestly, I haven’t experienced any of that. Everyone’s been super supportive and just thankful that I’m putting these tips out there, and that they’re learning from me. I’ve received 95% positive feedback and it’s been really good.
What’s one word that best describes how you work?
I would say “innovative.” I’m always trying to think of new ways to keep people engaged and excited about learning Excel. I know it’s looked at as this really boring data entry program; that’s honestly how I used to look at it too. I didn’t know half the stuff that Excel could do.
For example, I’ve created these little stories on Instagram to give people shortcut quizzes. You know, where even if they get it wrong, they still learn the right answer, and maybe they learn a shortcut that day. I’m constantly thinking of strategies for combining social media with learning.
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