How YouTube's brewing TikTok rivalry could impact mobile video strategies
As brands pour ad dollars into short-form video, marketing strategies are emerging to optimize each platform’s strengths. Some of the differences will be geographic: India’s ban on TikTok for political reasons has opened a huge market for YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels, the short-video section of the photo-sharing app owned by Meta Platforms. In the United States, the contrasting demographics of TikTok and YouTube users are more apparent.
“YouTube Shorts currently has a slightly older demographic and larger user base than TikTok, particularly in the U.S.,” Lauren Zoltick, director of performance marketing at stock-footage provider Storyblocks, said. “Unlike Instagram Reels, which often feels like a stream of repurposed TikTok videos with a worse algorithm, YouTube Shorts feels like it has its own identity separate from TikTok.”
Google in June revealed that YouTube Shorts has 1.5 billion viewers every month, making the short-video service one of the biggest rivals to TikTok worldwide. As the platforms compete for the attention of viewers and the loyalty of content creators, marketers have more choices in the ways they reach consumers.
YouTube introduced its short-video format less than two years ago as TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, emerged as the fastest-growing social media platform worldwide. TikTok in September disclosed it had more than 1 billion monthly active users, and the number was estimated to have grown to about 1.6 billion by the end of March.
“Consumers find short-form videos to be the No. 1 most engaging type of in-feed social content,” Rachael Samuels, senior social media manager at Sprout Social, said. “As social commerce and short-form video gain traction — and become more intertwined — it’s imperative that brands create a strong foundation on platforms that prioritize this content type.”
YouTube’s advertising revenue in 2021 jumped 46% to $28.8 billion, making the video-sharing site a key growth driver for parent company Alphabet. However, YouTube has also shown some weakness of late, speaking to a few factors: A tougher macroeconomic environment, increased competition, waning pandemic digital media habits and challenges to mobile ad-targeting and measurement brought on by Apple’s privacy policies.
TikTok is a younger platform with a higher growth rate. The social video app’s global ad revenue in 2021 hit almost $3.9 billion and this year will nearly triple to $11.6 billion, Insider Intelligence estimated in April.
Brands that have dabbled with campaigns on TikTok may find that their results aren’t necessarily applicable to YouTube Shorts because of differences in tastes and sensibilities among generational groups. Those considerations will help to define their strategies for each platform.
“Millennials and older generations are more active on YouTube Shorts than Gen Z, so the lessons they’ve learned on TikTok may not apply as well on YouTube Shorts,” said Joshua DuBois, co-founder and CEO of market research firm Gauge. “Brands that think with audience specificity — not just platform specificity — will do well.”
Legacy vs. newcomer
As a unit of Google, YouTube has an established infrastructure for ad placements and audience targeting. TikTok in the past few years has worked to build out services that advertisers have grown to expect from social media platforms.
“Google will have an advantage over TikTok in terms of ad measurement and ad platform usability as they already have a robust ad platform that brands and agencies use every day,” Calla Murphy, vice president of digital strategy and integrated marketing at marketing agency Belardi Wong, said. “The real test will be if they can gain attention share from consumers.”
YouTube Shorts is another way for the video-sharing platform to expand its audience through connected devices. YouTube has a strong presence in households that have hooked up their televisions to the internet, capturing 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on connected TV among viewers 18 and older, according to Nielsen data cited by Google.
YouTube, TikTok and Instagram are among the social media apps that are making a bigger push into e-commerce, giving marketers more tools to drive transactions with shopping features for viewers. Global social commerce will grow three times as fast as traditional e-commerce, rising from $492 billion in spending in 2021 to $1.2 trillion by 2025, consulting firm Accenture estimated.
Customizing content for video platforms
Marketers can find ways to adjust their ad creative and organic content for different video platforms. YouTube Shorts and TikTok both have vertical videos that are easier to view while holding a smartphone.
“Video shorts are already here and popular with Instagram and TikTok,” said James Brooks, founder and CEO of video ad platform GlassView. “Marketers, of course, took notice and already created short, punchy videos that leverage the popularity of this relatively new way to consume media. If YouTube Shorts are successful — and I'd imagine they will be, given YouTube's audience size — then marketers can repurpose shorts already created for the other platforms to be distributed through YouTube.”
While YouTube pushes into short-form videos geared for mobile viewing, TikTok is pushing in the opposite direction. The app in 2021 extended the cap on video length to three minutes, and this year added 10-minute videos. The longer formats give marketers and creators more room for overlapping content.
“For brands already producing short-form vertical content on TikTok or Reels, it can be helpful to repurpose that creative to YouTube Shorts to see how audiences react, especially if you already have a presence on YouTube,” Storyblocks’ Zoltick said. “If there is a strong audience alignment, it might be worth it to redirect resources to YouTube Shorts altogether from other channels, since there is a fast-growing audience and heavy investments going into the channel.”
Working with influencers
Before plastering the same content on YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels and TikTok, marketers should consider how consumers behave on each platform. TikTok’s roots are in sharing self-made music videos, swapping soundtracks with other videos and posting user reaction videos in split-screen Duets.
“On TikTok, the rule is to create TikToks, not ads,” Belardi Wong’s Murphy said. “Based on the format it will also hold true for YouTube Shorts — make shorts, not ads. For many brands, that requires bringing on influencers or creators that feel native to these platforms.”
YouTube for years has offered ways for publishers, influencers and creators to monetize their content as they develop a following and add subscribers to their channels. Amid the need for higher-quality content, TikTok also has sought to support the community of creators, as seen with its presence at the VidCon 2022 conference in Anaheim, California.
“When working with creators, brands need to understand the goals of creators on each individual platform,” said Tim Sovay, chief business development and partnerships officer at CreatorIQ, the maker of influencer marketing software. “For example, YouTube creators are highly focused on converting views into subscriber growth, which helps them drive additional monetization via ad revenue, subscriptions and merch.”
Creators of longer-form video content — which can include everything from personal vlogs to documentary-style how-tos — aren’t necessarily looking to devote their efforts to short-form videos in the hope of becoming a viral sensation overnight. However, shorter videos on YouTube Shorts can help creators to build an audience for their YouTube channels.
“We've heard from many of the traditional YouTubers that they find having to create short-form vertical content in addition to their standard content challenging,” Pierre Cassuto, global CMO at social influencer agency Humanz, said. “Those who have used it say that their channel views have gone up significantly.”
Regardless of the platform, influencers and creators have become significant partners for many brands that seek to stand out on social media. A successful strategy for platforms including YouTube Shorts and TikTok includes collaborations with these internet personalities.
“Brands must make sure that they are reaching the people who are change-makers in their communities,” Gauge’s DuBois said. “If these thought leaders are on board, culture will begin to move in that direction. And with direct feedback from these folks, brands will be well-equipped to move forward with their marketing efforts, with the assurance that they are providing what these communities need, while doing no harm.”