YouTube Shorts vs Instagram Reels – The Difference Explained


When you start out as a content creator, the best course of action is not to spread yourself too thin. Focus on one platform until you pop off, and then start repurposing. Instagram and YouTube Shorts are two of the easiest to get started with. A simple YouTube shorts vs. Instagram reels comparison will help you see which one you should build your core audience around.


Youtube Shorts Have A Watch-Time-Driven Algorithm

YouTube is a long-form video content platform. It is perhaps the only one of its kind in that regard. And while YouTube wants to capitalize on the short-form content consumption trend, the platform doesn't want to foster an audience with a short attention span. That's why even its shortform content is rewarding for longer watch time.

This is different from the watch-percentage rewarded platforms like IG reels and TikTok. Please note that no platform has officially disclosed specifics about its algorithm. But we have noticed something from experience.

If you upload a one-minute video and a 15-second video to TikTok, the one with the highest watch percentage gets the most reach. So, if people watch 10 seconds of your 15-second clip and 15 seconds of your 1-minute clip, the 15-second one will get a bigger boost.

Why? Because 10 seconds is 66% of a 15-second clip. And 15 seconds is 25% of a 1-minute clip. So TikTok doesn't care as much about the number of seconds watched as it cares about the percentage of the video viewed. Let's compare that to YouTube shorts.

If you post a 14-second YouTube short and a 1-minute YouTube short, the one with the most seconds watched will be pushed harder. So, if people watch 13 seconds of your 14-second clip (almost 100%) and 30 seconds of your 1-minute clip (50%), the latter will be promoted more.

YouTube doesn't care that one of your shorts has almost 100% watch time. It cares that the other short has almost twice as many seconds watched. Instagram is closer to TikTok in caring about watch percentage over watch time. But it cares even more about another metric.


Instagram Reels Have A Sharing-Driven Algorithm

The easiest thing to do on IG reels is to share. You can send a Reel to one of your friends in three taps. And we have noticed that reels with more shares get the broadest reach. YouTube shorts can be shared, too, but the platform doesn't have a direct message culture. So, making relatable content on YouTube shorts might not garner as many social shares as it would on IG Reels.


Youtube Shorts Are Better For Audio-Value Content

YouTube is a great platform for spoken-word content. Some of the biggest channels on the platform are audio-value channels. If you can look away from the screen and still be entertained by a piece of content, then it is considered to have audio value.

Google Podcasts are set to merge with YouTube, and YouTube has its own Music app. The platform is making room for audio-value content in a big way. Documentaries and video essays have become quite popular as well. So, what does that mean for YouTube shorts?

Simply put, YouTube creators are people who talk. Comedians, podcasters, and commentary creators make up a bulk of YouTube's creator community. So when they start making shorts, you can guess what kind of shorts populate the platform.

From podcast clips to standup comedy shorts, YouTube is populated with short-form content that has high audio value. This is the diametric opposite of Instagram.


Instagram Reels Are Better For Visual-Value Content

Instagram’s creator community is filled with photographers, artists, and influencers. So, when IG Reels became a thing, the first to hop on board were visual creators. The platform also assisted these creators by offering tools that allow them to cut photos and clips to viral music. As a result, the Instagram Reels culture is highly visual.

You can definitely find podcast clips repurposed as IG Reels. But you will not find these clips to be nearly as viral as dance content, before-after fashion transitions, and travel content.


Youtube Shorts Are Discourse-Driven

YouTube is its own microcosm. There is YouTube drama that you won't even know about unless you're chronically on the platform. At any given time, there's a major dialogue going on with various creators discussing similar topics. This is a result of a keyword-driven algorithm.

Suppose a video essay about Dubai's influencer program goes viral. Guess what happens next? Millions of people who have seen the video "Dubai" and "Influencer" in its title will see suggested videos with those same keywords. This incentivizes thousands of creators to make videos about the Dubai influencer program.

As a result, YouTube as a whole ends up becoming a space—albeit temporarily—for discussion about the program. This affects YouTube shorts as well. Shorts are more discussion and discourse-driven than reels. They feature dialogue and insights.


Instagram Reels Are Challenge-Driven

Instagram beats YouTube at cross-user dialogue. Sure, you can have a back-and-forth in the comments on YouTube. But IG has options like posting to your story, sending content via DMs, and broadcasting to your creator channel.

As a result, Instagram feels more social, which is why challenge-driven content takes off there. TikTok is the OG challenge platform, but Instagram has been able to replicate its success. People can participate in filter-based challenges, dance-based challenges, and even challenge sketches on Instagram Reels. Reels and TikToks of challenges posted to YouTube do not inspire viewers to join. YouTube is more passive in this regard.


Youtube Shorts Are Designed For Consistency

If you start posting YouTube shorts, you will notice that the algorithm builds up your audience gradually. You might get a few hundred viewers initially. Many creators report having up to 1,500 views in the beginning. Then, you can expect a consistent view count in the three thousands. Eventually, your Shorts might start earning ten to twenty thousand views consistently.

But that requires posting high-quality content at a consistent rate. The algorithm rewards momentum and uses it to match you with your potential audience. Instagram does not have such a predictable reach system.


Instagram Reels Are Designed For Virality

On Instagram, what goes viral goes viral. You could literally have an audience of 200 followers and get a million views on your reel. But you can also have an audience of 10,000 followers and earn less than a thousand views.

On the surface, it seems like the IG algorithm is more unpredictable than YouTube. But in reality, the platform is designed for virality. If your reel isn’t the type to get 10,000 views, it will most likely not even get a thousand views.

But if it is the type to get a million views, IG will not artificially suppress it at 3,000 views. With YouTube shorts, creators have complained about having their content “die” once it reaches what looks like a predetermined threshold.


Youtube Shorts Can Be Funneled Into Long-Form Video

In 2023, YouTube suspended all active links in comments of YouTube shorts. This was to discourage scammers who were abusing the boosted reach that Shorts were getting. But this also rendered creators unable to post links to their long-form videos in the comments of their Shorts.

In 2024, YouTube introduced and standardized a “related video” feature. Now, creators can plug long-form or short-form content as arelated videoin a Short. This has by no means taken off. Very few people click and watch a related video from a YouTube short.

By the latest estimates, roughly 5% of short-form viewers can translate to a long-form audience. A small chunk, but a chunk nonetheless. Even though it's not very efficient, you can grow your long-form content's audience with YouTube shorts.


Instagram Reels Can Be Funneled Into A Relationship With The Creator

If someone watches one of your Reels and decides to visit your profile, he sees your images, stories, and story highlights. He gets a gist of who you are. So, your reel can become an entryway to a one-sided relationship.

The more people consume your reels, the more they can feel like they know you. They might not watch your long-form content because IG isn't ideal for long videos, but they will be up to date with what's going on in your life.

When you post a story, they’ll see it. And when you include a poll or quiz in your story, they will respond. IG reels are designed to make you an influencer.


Youtube Shorts Are Getting Pushed By Youtube

In 2024, the greatest advantage that YouTube shorts have over IG reels is the reach advantage. Instagram has already turned reels into its flagship product. But YouTube is still pushing Shorts. So, if you create YouTube shorts, you will get an algorithmic boost.

Of course, you can't expect great reach with poor content. As long as your content is average, though, it will get pushed to at least a few thousand viewers.


Instagram Reels Have Stabilized As IG’s Flagship Product

As mentioned earlier, Instagram isn't putting much effort into making Reels any bigger than they are. This is most evident from the fact that the platform pulled its bonus fund for top reel creators. At this point, creators will make reels regardless of whether Instagram incentivizes them or not.

What IG is focusing on now is encouraging discovery across various types of content. The IG feed is offering TikTok-style spontaneous discovery to photo content, slides, and even stories. Reels are also suggested, but not as much as 2020 and 2021.


Youtube Shorts Are Monetized

YouTube is undeniably better at cutting creators in on its advertising revenue. So, it is no surprise that the platform offers the best rates for ads viewed in the Shorts feed. Of course, the money Shorts bring in is nowhere near what standard YouTube videos pull. Still, it is better than Instagram, which suspended its bonus program for Reels creators.


Instagram Reels Are No Longer Platform-Funded

Instagram announced a Reels bonus fund, which it later pulled. Now, creators can monetize their Reels by featuring products and using the platform's tap-to-shop options. There is no Reels fund or any other platform-backed funding for short-form content creators on Instagram.


Youtube Shorts Can Be Made From On-Platform Videos

As the team behind ContentFries, the number one content repurposing tool for video creators, we are passionate about making new videos from existing ones. So, we’re naturally excited about YouTube’screate a shortfeature.

YouTube lets you trim a few seconds' worth of content from your long-form videos to turn it into a short. While the result isn't high-resolution, it is pretty easy to make. If you do not have a content multiplier like ContentFries, you can use YouTube itself to make Shorts. Of course, we recommend using ContentFries for its auto-captions, better resolution, and other features.


Instagram Reels Can Be Made From Images

Instagram Reels stand out from Shorts because they can be made with pictures. IG has a template feature that allows creators to make slideshow-eque reels from images and clips. These image-based reels don't usually perform as well as standard video reels, though.


Youtube Shorts Are Great For Entertainers

Sketch comedians, standup comics, podcasters, professional speakers, and almost any other type of entertainer can build an audience on YouTube. People come to YouTube to be entertained, so Shorts creators who can speak or perform do well on the platform.

But what about Instagram? Surely, people go there to be entertained as well. Yes, but the difference is that people who get on Instagram want to entertain themselves. People who go to YouTube want you to entertain them. And that's a huge difference.


Instagram Reels Are Perfect For Influencers

Influencers are not entertainers in the traditional sense. They provide fodder for self-entertainment. People follow influencers to live vicariously through them. They want to imagine themselves in the shoes of the influencer. Or they want to gossip about what’s going on in their lives.

Those who watch IG reels want to see something larger than life or dramatic. Something they can aspire to have or complain about. The creators don’t have to be an entertainer. He just needs to offer fodder for gossip.


Final Thoughts

YouTube shorts is a secondary product of YouTube. Discourse and entertainer-driven content make up a bulk of YouTube shorts just like they make up a bulk of standard YouTube videos. IG Reels, on the other hand, is a flagship product of Instagram. Since IG is an influencer-populated platform, Instagram Reels are also influencer-driven. Shorts are insightful and discussion-based, while Reels are visual and editing-based. Choose YouTube shorts if you want to be a long-form content creator in the long run. Pick IG Reels if you want to be an influencer.