TikTok vs. Reels vs. Shorts: The Ultimate Short-Form Video Guide

As younger audiences move away from traditional social media to hot new platforms like TikTok, we can expect more trends along the lines of short video content.

In 2020 alone, TikTok increased its user base in the U.S. by over 83 percent.[1] The platform is now more popular among Gen Z consumers than Instagram, and nearly 70 percent of teens in the U.S. use the platform.[2][3]

Of course, this means that other platforms are stepping up and trying to mimic TikTok video success. Both YouTube and Instagram offered their own versions of short video content, named YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels, respectively.

Now, the challenge for marketers is to determine the best platform for their brand. Take a look at what Shorts, TikTok, and Reels have to offer for short video content.


TikTok hit the scene and exploded in only a few years, now earning over 2 billion downloads and a massive TikTok user base.

What makes TikTok different? Unlike other platforms, TikTok is driven by creators and influencers. Unlike other platforms, users connect with each other through funny, raw video with filters and effects instead of messaging and newsfeeds.

Marketing on TikTok means knowing its tools, which include music options and sound effect options from the app’s own library, hashtag challenges to make content discoverable, and enhancing video with new filters and effects for social marketing.

Though it may be new, TikTok has numerous advantages, such as user-generated content, better storytelling opportunities, high user engagement, and limited brand competition for organic and paid advertising.

That said, TikTok does have some disadvantages. The content is largely humorous, so some brands may not find their place in that world. TikTok also lacks some of the data sophistication of other platforms, and trends move quickly, so brands need to be agile to keep up.

Instagram Reels

Instagram Reels are similar to TikTok short-form video content. In fact, Reels were likely introduced to compete with TikTok’s popularity. Like TikTok, Reels video length is typically 15 seconds to 60 seconds and use music, sound effects, and filters to enhance the content.

Instagram Reels have advantages, especially for brands that have a strong following of Instagram users on an Instagram account. Audiences see the content immediately, so you don’t have to put in a lot of time to build followers on a new platform. Instagram also pushes Reels to users more than other content.

There are still disadvantages to Instagram Reels vs. TikTok, however. TikTok is threatening Instagram and came up with the idea first, so it’s possible that Reels will never reach the level of popularity and Instagram engagement that TikTok has. It’s also challenging to determine which types of content are the best option for a brand on Instagram, which has a variety of ways to post content vs. TikTok, such as an Instagram Story.

YouTube Shorts

Like Reels, YouTube Shorts is the platform’s answer to short videos to compete with TikTok as a social platform. Shorts content is created using the camera on YouTube. While Shorts aren’t monetized with ad partnerships, there’s a YouTube Shorts Fund that is used to incentivize creators.

YouTube offers some unique tools for Shorts, such as captions, video clips from the phone camera roll in addition to filmed content, and basic filters. In the future, YouTube will offer more filters. Video length can be up to 60 seconds.

Since the platform already has well-developed video tools, video editing, and a huge user base, Shorts are likely to gain a lot of attention from creators and users alike. Brands that already have a following are likely to get plenty of traction with Shorts. Users can also find Shorts easily with the YouTube “Shorts” button on the app.

YouTube comes with some disadvantages. The platform launched this feature later than TikTok or Instagram, so it’s trailing behind in popularity. In addition, YouTube users are typically looking for more polished and long-form content – wildly different than TikTok – and Shorts don’t align with that. Whether users will latch onto this new content format remains to be seen.

Choosing Short-Form Video Content

The essence of Instagram Reels, TikToks, and YouTube Shorts is providing users and creators with engaging short-form videos. The main difference with TikTok is that it’s designed entirely around video clips, while Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts are part of diverse content ecosystems on both apps. The best option for social media marketing, paid advertising, and influencer marketing for your brand depends on your audience.



[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1100842/tiktok-us-user-growth/

[2] https://www.marketingcharts.com/digital/social-media-117353#:~:text=TikTok%20continues%20to%20shake%20up,to%20a%20forecast%20from%20eMarketer

[3] https://www.statista.com/chart/22446/most-used-social-media-platforms-by-us-teens/