TikTok was a big deal in 2019, but just 9% of Canadians are using it

While already a big deal with young people around the world in 2018, TikTok really exploded into the North American mainstream last year, leading marketers to ask their digital experts to figure out how and where they could fit in.

But just 9% of Canadians aged 16 to 64 were using TikTok by the end of the year, according to a new study released by We Are Social and Hootsuite.

Of course, because it’s the platform that made Lil Nas X famous and is dominated by teenagers posting dance challenge videos, that number from such a broad age demographic doesn’t tell the whole story. In terms of total usage, TikTok is still two percentage points behind Tumblr (yes it still exists) but it’s also only five points behind Twitch.

However, it was also the sixth most popular mobile app download in 2019—a strong indicator of new users—ahead of Snapchat, Facebook, Amazon and Google Maps. Facebook Messenger was number one, followed by Spotify, Netflix, Instagram and WhatsApp Messenger.

“TikTok is understandably the subject of much fascination at the moment, with brands from across sectors experimenting with creators and entering into collaborations,” said Coby Shuman, managing director of We Are Social in Toronto. “Do we have to be on it? Not necessarily. The right social strategy is about being where your audience is and being part of culturally relevant conversations, not choosing a particular platform to focus on.

“But we should make sure we’re aware of what’s going on there, particularly as TikTok offers the opportunity to see how brands show up on the platform organically and how people are integrating brands into their content. In that way it’s become an extremely insightful learning tool for our industry.”

The global Digital 2020 report was first released two weeks ago, providing a comprehensive overview of digital behaviours and trends—from general usage to online shopping, mobile behaviours and internet speeds around the world. The report is compiled using data from a number of organizations, including GlobalWebIndex, Statista, GSMA Intelligence, App Annie, SimilarWeb and Locowise.

On Tuesday, We Are Social released its in-depth report for Canada. Digital 2020: Canada includes 60 slides focusing solely on Canadian data—from mobile penetration to mobile platforms, to behaviours across social media and ad spend.

Unsurprisingly, the report shows near total penetration for internet (94%) and mobile connectivity (96%), with more than two-thirds (67%) using social media. In terms of device ownership, 89% of Canadians have a smartphone, though another 5.2% still use a non-smartphone.

Here’s a brief snapshot at some of the other interesting data that caught our eye.

Brand discovery

The internet, and more specifically search engines, is the most popular tactic for brand discovery, cited by 42% of internet users 16 to 64. It is followed by

  • Word-of-mouth recommendations at 39%
  • Ads on TV at 34%
  • Retail websites at 29%
  • In-store displays at 26%
  • Ads on social at 24%
  • Ads on websites at 21%

Mobile catching on desktop

Canadians still use desktops and laptops for 49.8% of their internet usage, with mobile use representing 43.2%. However, desktop/laptop usage was down 11% from the same time in 2018, while mobile usage was up 30%.

Time spent with media

Canadians spend five hours and 53 minutes connected to the internet every day—about two hours and 20 minutes of that via mobile device—and about three hours and 20 minutes watching TV. Other media include:

  • Social media: One hour and 49 minutes
  • Music streaming: One hour and nine minutes
  • Gaming console: 53 minutes

Ad spend

About $7.49 billion was spent on digital advertising in Canada in 2019. Most of that, $3.32 billion, went to search,  with another $1.75 billion to social media, $1.2 billion to banners, and $730 million on digital video. However, social advertising and digital video showed the biggest increases from 2018, both increasing by 13%.

Most popular social

YouTube is the most popular single platform, with 85% reporting using it in the last month. Facebook isn’t far behind, at 79%. Other social platforms, ranked by percentage of people saying they used it in the last month (this is the question which revealed TikTok at 9%):

  • Facebook Messenger: 62%
  • Instagram: 53%
  • Twitter: 40%
  • Pinterest: 35%
  • Linkedin: 29%
  • WhatsApp: 28%
  • SnapChat: 28%


Facebook says it can reach 21 million Canadians with ads on its platform, about 65% of the entire Canadian population. The audience skews female, at 54.5% of all users.


Instagram says it can send ads to 13 million Canadians, about 40% of the population 13 and older. About 55.1% of that audience is female.


Linkedin says it can reach about 17 million Canadians, or roughly 56% of the population 18 and older. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, it skews male, with about 53% of its ad audience being male

Concerns about privacy and online wellbeing

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Canadians 16 to 64 expressed some concerns about how their data is being used by companies, and 61% are concerned about what’s real or fake online. In terms of ad tracking, 45% said they use some form of ad blocking and 54% said they had deleted cookies in the last month.

David Brown