3 Platforms, One Prize: TikTok, YouTube and Instagram Face-Off

Updated: Jul 27

Just a few years ago, social media was a different world. Many platforms focused on photo-related content, while video content wasn’t the center of the universe. Now, with the rise in popularity of TikTok through the pandemic, video content is king. Social media platforms realized that videos were keeping viewers on the apps longer, and that’s exactly what platforms aim for.

Now, nearly all algorithmic makeups across various social media platforms favor video content over everything else.

YouTube has been championing videos since its inception, but TikTok is the platform that inspired Instagram to implement Instagram Reels and YouTube to start pushing YouTube Shorts.

Each of these short-form video types across platforms are very similar; they are meant for faster content, use vertical videos, and have become the most popular way for creators to make content. However, each platform still has its own unique benefits and values, often leaving creators to wonder where their time is best spent. Let’s break it down.

TikTok Videos

When TikTok rose from the ashes of the application Musical.ly, many people didn’t even realize the two were related. Though TikTok was a product of Musical.ly being bought, rebranded, and updated, it garnered its own name recognition in a matter of months.

Perhaps it was the fact that everyone was stuck inside during lockdown and needed something to do, or maybe it was something else, but either way, TikTok grabbed the attention of consumers and creators alike, and has done nothing but grow since.

Creator Tools

It started out as what seemed like a nod to the old short-form video platform, Vine because TikTok only allowed 15-second videos. Now, however, creators can post videos of up to 3 minutes, and many creators are starting to get access to 10-minute video limits. The genius of TikTok is that everything can be done in the app when it comes to creating.

Creators can film, edit, and post, all in one easy place. The editing tools available to creators on TikTok are unmatched. Creators have access to trending sounds, videos, and hashtags when creating, then they are able to edit using voice-to-text features, stickers, text, and more.


In its infancy, TikTok was given an unfair reputation as an application solely for teens to post videos of trending dances. While that is still a very prominent aspect of the app, it has blossomed into a full-fledged library of content from every corner of the internet. Now, TikTok has over 1 billion users worldwide and a presence of all ages.

Gen Z still dominates the app and half of its users are under 34 years of age, but, according to Statista, over 31% of the app’s users are over the age of 40. Move over, kiddos, make room for the middle-aged crowd!

Growth Capabilities

Perhaps the biggest thing TikTok is known and respected for is its growth potential. Unlike other platforms, creators don’t need a large following (or even really ANY following) to go viral. The TikTok algorithm works differently, combing through videos as if each one is unique, and pushing those as it sees fit.

Of course, creators with large followings usually see a steady rate of viewership of their videos, but there’s no place that’s easier to grow with simple consistency. Instead of focusing on aesthetics like Instagram and deep knowledge like many YouTube videos, TikTok is more lighthearted, propelling content of all types.

Instagram Reels

While Instagram has had its IGTV and Instagram LIVE features for quite some time, Instagram Reels is their newest content type that competes directly with TikTok. In a fascinating video, creator Mark Sommerville (@spaghettiseason), did the direct analysis everyone wanted to see: how would the exact same video content perform on Instagram and TikTok?

For 100 days, he posted the same short-form video content on both platforms. While his TikTok garnered over 42,000 interactions in the form of likes, comments, shares, etc., his Instagram only brought in 2,400 interactions. This is a vast difference in the effectiveness of each platform for new creators, but Instagram is still one of the most widely used social media platforms.

Creator Tools

In an effort to best compete with TikTok, Instagram Reels has many of the same editing features. However, Reels can only be up to 1 minute long, with the platform not accepting longer videos in Reels at the moment. Long videos can be posted on IGTV, but that’s a bit different than Reels.

Additionally, trends don’t seem to be as prominent on Instagram. Sure, sounds will start trending and specific hashtags will get certain traction, but many of the trends seem to spill over from TikTok, instead of originating in the Instagram app.


When it comes to usage, Instagram welcomes 1.9 billion users onto the app each day – that’s a TON of people, and nearly double the total number of users TikTok has. 62% of Instagram users are between the ages of 18 and 34 and 30% of its users are 35 or older, putting it relatively in line with TikTok’s age breakdown. The gender split between males and females on Instagram is pretty even, meaning it’s a great place for creators of all types to post content.

Growth Capabilities

Notorious for an ever-changing algorithm, Instagram has been known to frustrate creators because it can be hard to keep up with pleasing the algorithm enough for content to reach large audiences. In the same analysis done by Mark Sommerville, he noticed that his TikTok grew by over 8,000 followers while his Instagram (with the SAME CONTENT) grew a measly….6 followers. While this is just one example, it’s definitely a nod to the fact that Instagram doesn’t offer the same growth potential as TikTok does right now.

YouTube Shorts

Though it was last to the party in terms of short-form content, YouTube has always been a video content platform since its inception in 2005. When you consider just how long the platform has lasted as a front-runner, its influence becomes obvious.

One benefit of long-form YouTube content is that it can easily be broken up into short-form content that is perfect for repurposing on other platforms.

Creator Tools

YouTube videos, which are different from YouTube Shorts, are generally filmed horizontally and can be up to 12 HOURS long, which is a big jump from the limits on other video platforms. However, for long-form videos, pretty much all editing steps have to be done outside the platform, forcing creators to use third-party tools often.

YouTube Shorts, however, do allow some in-app editing features. Creators can add text, but YouTube only allows sounds of up to 15 seconds to be used in each video, so the idea of trending sounds is less of a priority on the platform.


It makes sense that the more mature platform has a more mature audience, or maybe this can be attributed to the fact that it takes adults years how to use social media platforms and YouTube is simply the one they have had the most time to practice with.

All jokes aside, 73% of adults watch YouTube videos, which is an astounding number for adult social media users. However, YouTube holds its own in the younger markets, too, with 81% of internet users in the US from ages 18-25 watching videos on the platform regularly.

Growth Capabilities

It’s common knowledge that YouTube subscribers seem to be some of the most loyal followers in the social media game. The long-form videos allow creators’ followers to connect with deeper aspects of their lives and get more face time with them. However, YouTube Shorts are currently being prioritized on the platform, giving creators a new way to grow their subscriber list.

Since the feature is fairly new, YouTube is trying to draw as much attention to YouTube Shorts as possible, meaning now is a great time to join the party. Similar to TikTok, another great aspect of YouTube growth is that old videos that were popular will get suggested in the future, meaning your videos will have a long lifespan if they do well. There’s nothing better than your hard work paying off time and time again.

Creating on Multiple Platforms

Content creation, no matter which platform, is a fascinating challenge for every creator on the internet. Some creators may excel on one platform but struggle to gain traction on another. Choosing the right platform for your needs can be tricky; so many new creators choose to post videos on multiple platforms to see which platform starts to grow the fastest. Since YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels, and videos on TikTok are all very similar, it’s common to see creators repurpose the same videos across all three platforms.

Be careful with this approach; most platforms favor “original content” meaning if your video has a logo from another platform on it, it may not get prioritized by the algorithm as well.

Do What You Enjoy

When a creator loves what they do, it shows. People connect to authentic creators, with consumers pushing for the “real” side of life to be shown on social media instead of the aesthetic, curated approach that was popular a few years ago.

No matter which platform(s) you decide to use, being your authentic self is your best bet to grow an audience. However, knowing the algorithms of each platform doesn’t hurt either. It will take some trial and error to reach your goals, but by posting consistently, trying creative content, and connecting with your followers, you’ll see your accounts get bigger and bigger.


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