Alan Johnston is a digital marketer and social media expert who joined the ISMM in 2012. Winning Edge talks to him about his fast-changing industry

What do you do?

I run over 40 websites. My two biggest sites in the UK are and Ukonline, both of which are packed with blogs that would help any ISMM member understand how to market themselves effectively online. I also have a huge network in the Far East would be glad to furnish leads to any decent ISMM members wishing to do business out there. In addition, I am promoting a TV show called and a directory at I am a blogger at heart, and these blogs lead directly to around 5-10 qualified leads a month.

How long have you been involved in digital marketing?

I opened up my first PC in 2000 and started on social media in 2005. It took me seven years to get to grips with how to market myself effectively online, then to share that knowledge with all my clients.

What do you like most about this growing industry?

I love the fact that now decent, tenacious, honest people can get ahead with online content full of useful tips, giving away information for other people to use, the open source community working together for the common good of all. I really enjoy seeing clients’ faces when they have learned a skill for life and how they can improve their business with little or no spend at all.

What are the key issues facing your industry?

The key issue in digital marketing is the way it is changing so fast. The top three social networks add new features almost every day. New social network sites crop up all the time and there are changes to websites and laws that must be learned about and tested and rolled out to my clients regularly. Google makes tiny changes each month, and massive changes a few times a year, so you must be alert, taking part in webinars and as many seminars as you can.

What are your biggest challenges?

As digital marketing is still new to many people, they don’t realise it’s true cost or impact. I started to get first-page Google ranking for some of my sites (for the keywords, not just the name) with no spend whatsoever, so it can be extremely cost-effective. But many businesspeople shy away from it as they feel it will be expensive in time and money – even though I advocate a strategy to get to the top that takes just two hours a week.

What skills do you think are important to your role?

As an educator I provide a teaching service. I do not ‘do social media’ for other people – how could I be passionate about anyone else’s business when I am not there? I have been commended on my patience, even when people struggle with left and right on a PC screen. It is very rewarding to see how happy people feel when they have learned something very unique that they can use every day in their business. Also important is the ability to write how you feel and share knowledge effectively – online marketing is all about giving.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

The Internet is dire in the afternoons, so many people who work with computers will tell you the best time to take a break is the afternoons. And, guess what? Gyms are empty in the afternoons. I also love a good walk; you can get the best thinking done on a long stroll.

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