HomeBlog for TikTok Industry InsightsTikTok strategy guides and tipsUltimate Comparison: TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

Ultimate Comparison: TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

With a huge surge of younger audiences like Gen Z increasingly signing up to TikTok — the more established social media platforms have clearly been taking note. Here are some eye-opening TikTok statistics from that drive this point home:

  • TikTok user growth was forecasted at 22% year over year growth between 2020 and 2024 from 65.9 million users to 88.7 million users (Statista)
  • TikTok is now the seventh most popular social media network, leapfrogging platforms like Twitter and Snapchat — even though it only properly launched in 2018 after the rebrand from musical.ly
  • Combined, TikTok and “Tik Tok” are the third-highest search query on YouTube (Hootsuite)
  • As of March 2021, over 47% of TikTok users were under the age of 30 (Statista)
  • As of fall (autumn) 2020, TikTok was more popular than Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube among U.S. teens (Statista)

Among the main reasons for this growth are the feature-rich functionality and easy usability of the video-sharing app. There was initially some skepticism in marketing circles as to the effectiveness of incorporating TikTok into the end-to-end marketing strategy but the endless possibilities of reaching and engaging with younger audiences quickly became apparent.

Due to the success of TikTok, major social media players like Instagram and YouTube have been forced to react. In moves to win back some of the market share that’s being eaten up by TikTok, both platforms have now introduced their own version of short-form video components to rival TikTok. Instagram Reels was first to hit the market in 2020, followed more recently by the launch of YouTube Shorts in March of 2021. Both tools are very similar to TikTok, enabling individual creators and brands to record, edit, and share short-form, vertical video content with the world. With this intensifying competition for short-form video audiences, you may be wondering which platform to use as part of your marketing program. While it ultimately comes down to your brand, audience, and objectives, we’ve put together a detailed comparison of TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts to help determine the best short-form video tool for your specific needs.


Evaluating the TikTok Platform in depth

What are TikTok Videos?

TikTok videos — or TikToks as they’re often called, are short-form videos that tend to comprise entertaining content in the form of dancing to lip-syncing, people acting out sketches, and edited videos where creators talk to the camera. Brands use TikTok creators to engage, inform and educate their audiences in creative ways.

How long do TikTok Videos last?

TikTok videos last up to 15 seconds but you can also connect multiple clips to reach up to 60 seconds of total recording. In July 2021 the platform increased the maximum video length from 60 seconds to 180 seconds (3 minutes).

TikTok Editing Features

There is a plethora of video editing and customisation tools available on the platform. This includes:

  • Importing external video clips to the platform.
  • Cutting and editing both imported and TikTok-native videos.
  • An extensive library of sound bites, music, filters, and effects to enhance the content
  • Seamless transitions that help to smoothen abrupt cuts and work wonders for reveals or transformations.
  • User-friendly text features, including text-to-speech (to activate the automated voice which reads the text out loud), set duration (to control how long text remains on the screen), and edit (for different colours, fonts, and outlines).
  • Using the duet feature to reply directly to specific videos, which creates a split-screen and can change the context of the initial video for even better, more viral content.

TikTok Platform Audience Demographics

Here are some key audience demographics for the TikTok platform:

  • 698 million active monthly users use TikTok worldwide (Data Reportal)
  • Generation Z accounts for 60% of TikTok’s user base (Forbes)
  • TikTok has over 2 billion total app downloads (SensorTower)
  • TikTok generated over $1 billion of estimated revenue in 2020 (Reuters)
  • The majority of people use TikTok to find funny or entertaining content (Global Web Index)

We recently wrote about the best ways to target Generation Z in 2022 and beyond, here.

Time Spent On The TikTok App

Here are some statistics on app usage:

  • Users spend 52 minutes on the platform per day on TikTok (Business Of Apps).
  • Kids aged 4 – 15 years old spend 80 minutes per day on TikTok (The Verge).
  • Users open the TikTok app eight times per day (Backlinko).
  • 70% of TikTok users spend more than 1 hour per week on the platform, which includes 11% spending 5-10 hours per week and 6% spending more than 10 hours per week on TikTok (Statista)

Types of Content Dominating The TikTok Platform

The most popular content categories on TikTok include:

  • Re-enactments of popular cultural trends
  • Brand-inspired challenges
  • Entertainment
  • News
  • Dance
  • Pranks
  • Sports and fitness
  • Fashion
  • Apps
  • DIY

TikTok in action – Beverage brand dominates TikTok with content

The power of TikTok for brands can be seen in the example of Ocean Spray. The soon-to-be 100-year old beverage company generated 15 billion media impressions in a month, thanks to TikTok, without even lifting a finger. The juice brand experienced a big bump in sales after TikTok creator Nathan Apodaca (@420doggface208) featured himself enjoying their cranberry flavoured drink while skateboarding to work in a video that went viral.


@420doggface208################♬ Dreams (2004 Remaster) – Fleetwood Mac


Google Trends metrics show that even though Ocean Spray had nothing to do with the video, the brand still experienced a surge in reach

Ocean Spray Google Trends

Source: Google Trends, “Ocean Spray”

Since that video, celebrities like Gordon Ramsay have posted content of themselves enjoying the drink in their videos. Thanks to this type of potential exposure and results, companies like Dunkin’ Donuts and Walmart have gone as far as encouraging their staff to post videos while at work.

TikTok Engagement Rate

As of July 2020, TikTok had the highest engagement for influencers among social media apps with a global engagement rate of 15.86%. This explains why brands have run to TikTok in their drones – it helps brands build even stronger connections with the youngest generations of the world.


Evaluating Instagram Reels in depth

What Are Instagram Reels?

Instagram Reels form a section on the Instagram app and enable users to create and share entertaining short-form video content within Instagram. While Instagram Reels are very similar to Instagram Stories, there are some key differentiators. Instagram Reels provides a greater selection of video editing tools, effects, and speed controls. Additionally, Instagram Reels only allow video content and not photos, like on Stories. What’s more, users can share Reels to the Explore page for the entire Instagram community to view (if the user account is public), whereas Stories can only be shared with followers. Instagram Reels are considered Instagram’s answer to TikTok, and a tool they created to keep audience engagement high within the Instagram app.

What are the Instagram Reel Video Length Limits?

Instagram Reels initially lasted up to 15 seconds when the feature was first introduced but this has since increased to maximum video length of up to 60 seconds in 2021.

Instagram Reel Editing Features

Instagram Reels comes complete with numerous editing features including:

  • Uploading videos that are recorded outside Instagram.
  • Editing and customising both uploaded and Instagram-native videos.
  • A large music library, filters, and AR (augmented reality) effects for even more attention-grabbing content.
  • Hands-free Reels recording by setting a countdown timer, meaning users can be a distance from their devices and still capture exceptional content
  • Adding voiceover and text for better context to Reels.
  • Using the Remix feature to record videos side-by-side with other Reels.
  • Leveraging the green screen effect to get creative with backgrounds, whether it is a video or a photo.

Instagram Reel Audience Demographics

To date, there isn’t much data available on the audience demographics for Instagram Reels alone. Here is some noteworthy data on Instagram’s audience as a whole instead:

  • The largest audience on Instagram is aged 25 – 34 years old, followed closely behind by the 18 – 24 demographic (Statista).
  • Instagram app downloads increased 11% between July and August 2020 following the launch of Reels (Apptopia).
  • In 2020 the potential audience reach for advertisers was 1.16 billion on Instagram (Hootsuite).
  • There were 1.2 billion unique visitors that were active on Instagram in October 2020 (SEMrush).

Audience Time Spent on Instagram Reels

Here are some statistics on app usage:

  • Time spent on Instagram increased by 3.5% after the launch of Instagram Reels (Apptopia).
  • The time spent on Instagram per day grew 2.3X after the introduction of Reels (Kantar).
  • Time spent on Instagram increased by 35% for the audience aged below 24 years old during the pandemic (Kantar).

Types Of Content Dominating Instagram Reels

The most popular content categories on Instagram Reels include:

  • Sports and fitness
  • Challenges
  • Entertainment
  • Educational content
  • Pranks

Instagram Reels in action – The NBA

Nike is an example of a brand that is taking advantage of Instagram Reels. The brand’s lowest-performing Reel has over 3 million views while their best-performing one has north of 6.5 million views. That’s excellent exposure for the brand, which demonstrates the benefits of using Instagram Reels.

20 of the 30 NBA teams also use Instagram Reels with teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics using the tools particularly effectively. All the NBA teams using the Reels feature on Instagram reportedly receive 22% higher engagement on average than they would for posting normal videos on the platform. 

Here’s an example of the Lakers marketing team having some fun with some Reel features. It’s a short clip of superstar Lebron James — who also goes by the name King James — getting crowned by his teammate as he walks to the bench for a timeout. The video has over 4 million views.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Los Angeles Lakers (@lakers)

Engagement Rate on Instagram Reels

According to Hootsuite, there is some evidence to suggest that engagement rates on Instagram increase because of Instagram Reels but not by very much. There are a lot of contrasting figures out there on Instagram Reel engagement rates, so it’s quite difficult to make a direct comparison. However, one recent study discovered that Reels achieve an average engagement rate of 2.7%. Despite this, another found that TikTok influencer engagement rates range from 5.3-9.4%. According to another source, the average engagement rate across Instagram was 1.42% (2021).


What Are YouTube Shorts?

YouTube Shorts are YouTube’s response to the short-form video trend that TikTok first started. Users looking to create Shorts content can do so through the Shorts camera on the YouTube application. There’s even a YouTube Shorts Fund aimed at attracting creators to produce short-form content for the platform.

What are the Video Length Limits for YouTube Shorts?

With YouTube Shorts, users can leverage YouTube’s multi-segment camera to create short-form videos that last a maximum of 60 seconds. YouTubers and brands use shorts to attract long-form video subscribers. They can be considered a top-of-the-funnel stage for converting people into dedicated subscribers.

YouTube Shorts Editing Features

YouTube Shorts has a range of in-app editing features including:

  • Adding music from a library of tracks to enhance the content.
  • Adjusting the video speed for dramatic effect.
  • Recording hands-free using a countdown timer in case creators are recording along and need to be a distance from the device

YouTube is also gearing up to release more editing features in due course — with text overlays, filters, captions, and the ability to create drafts among the new additions.

YouTube Shorts Audience Demographics

Data on YouTube Shorts as an isolated tool is fairly scarce but here are some useful figures to note, if you’re just starting out on the platform: 

  • The YouTube platform has 2.2 billion active monthly users worldwide (Hootsuite)
  • 15 – 35 year olds are YouTube’s largest audience (Backlinko).
  • YouTube has 3.5 billion views daily (Global Web Index)
  • Over 70% of YouTube Shorts videos are over 15 seconds (Tubular Labs)
  • 95% of U.S. 18 – 29 year olds and 91% of 30 – 49 years olds use YouTube (Pew Research Center)
  • YouTube generated $19.7 billion in revenue in 2020, which was a 30.4% year-on-year increase (Business Of Apps)
  • Apple was the biggest YouTube advertiser in 2020, achieving 2.23 billion impressions (SEMrush)

Audience Time Spent On YouTube

Here are some statistics on app usage for YouTube:

  • YouTube Shorts receive over 15 billion daily average views globally
  • Over 70% of YouTube Shorts are longer than 15 seconds
  • YouTube is the second-most visited website on the web and the second-most popular social media platform in the world (Hootsuite).
  • On average, YouTube visitors view over 8 pages per day (Hootsuite).
  • In 2020 alone, users watch 100 billion hours of gaming via more than 40 million gaming channels on YouTube (YouTube).

Types Of Content Dominating the YouTube Shorts Platform

The most popular content categories on YouTube Shorts include:

  • Gaming
  • Entertainment
  • Music and dance
  • Food and drink
  • Science and technology
  • Sports

YouTube Shorts Engagement Rate

Between October 2020 and October 2021 the highest engagement rate in a calendar month was 3.17% and the lowest was 0.27%. The average for the full one-year period was 0.93%.

YouTube Shorts in action – The Voice TV Show

Huge brands like The Voice are already tapping into YouTube Shorts to reach more than 2 billion active monthly users on the platform. To promote its new season, NBC’s The Voice created a Short featuring 2021’s hosts commenting on each other’s music in a pretty heart-warming video showing the camaraderie behind the scenes. The Short video does a great job of using the full 60 seconds available with the inclusion of a call-to-action (CTA) at the end, which tells their audience when and where they can catch the show.


Which Short-Video Platform Is Best? TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

To summarise all of the information highlighted above here’s a more direct comparison of the platforms in turn.


Comparison 1: TikTok vs Instagram Reels

TikTokInstagram Reels
Year Of Launch20172020
Maximum Video Length3 minutes (180 seconds)1 minute (60 seconds)
Editing FeaturesExcellent range of editing featuresGood range of editing features
EngagementHighest level of engagement at 15.86%Mid-level engagement at 2.7%
Largest AudienceGen Z (9 – 24 years old)
Millennials (25 – 34 years old)


Comparison 2: TikTok vs YouTube Shorts

TikTokYouTube Shorts
Year Of Launch20172021
Maximum Video Length3 minutes (180 seconds)1 minute (60 seconds)
Editing FeaturesExcellent range of editing featuresLimited editing features with more to be released in due course
EngagementHighest level of engagement at 15.86%Lowest level of engagement at 0.93%
Largest AudienceGen Z (9 – 24 years old)15 – 35 year olds (Gen Z / Millennials)


Comparison 3: Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

Instagram ReelsYouTube Shorts
Year Of Launch20202021
Maximum Video Length1 minute (60 seconds)1 minute (60 seconds)
Editing FeaturesGood range of editing featuresLimited editing features with more to be released in due course
EngagementMid-level engagement at 2.7%Lowest level of engagement at 0.93%
Largest AudienceMillennials (25 – 34 years old)15 – 35 year olds (Gen Z / Millennials)


Which Platform Wins? TikTok vs Instagram Reels vs YouTube Shorts

TikTok is the clear winner as a pure short-form video platform that primarily targets Gen Z. As the original platform that started the short-form vertical video trend, TikTok has a greater range of editing features, a longer maximum video length, and has the highest engagement rates of any social media platform. And these are some of the reasons why our influencer marketing agency (House of Marketers) chose to focus our client services on TikTok. It’s the most undervalued and engaging social media platform. You can learn more about TikTok influencer campaigns here.

But at the end of the day though, it’s important to first determine your target audience and objectives to pick the best platform for your particular needs.

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