Building a board network? Use LinkedIn

Weak ties are the most valuable asset when it comes to building a board network. To build a board network, you need to develop connections and relationships with people you don’t know or don’t know well. Too many overthink this process but it doesn’t have to be that way. LinkedIn is the perfect platform and tool for building a board network.

LinkedIn gets results

I am always open to or searching for a board appointment. I came across a board role on our site for an organisation that I had some association with in the past but had since lost touch with. I was keen on the board role because it is in an industry that I am passionate about, social housing. I decided to be proactive and see if there were other similar opportunities out there and made a list. I then started to get connecting.

Using LinkedIn and my two-step approach, I connected with six past NEDs, Committee Members and Executives of the organisations on my list. Using a simple and authentic introduction that reflected my board profile, I received six positive responses to have conversations. The conversations were terrific. Not long – they didn’t need to be. From these conversations, I received multiple offers to introduce me to people who could help and numerous requests for me to help them.

The takeaway here is that as a result of this exercise of using LinkedIn to build my board network, I now have at least six people who could advocate for me in the future, six people I can introduce others to, and six personal connections that I didn’t have before. This is all in the space of 20 minutes using LinkedIn and perhaps 60 minutes of phone calls.

Why is LinkedIn so valuable when building a board network?

I am a big fan of LinkedIn, with 30,000+ NED connections. But for most, LinkedIn is an under-utilised way to build a board network and develop the sort of connections that will get you a board appointment. 

Formal networking events rely on your ability to work room and are only as good as the people that attend or have the opportunity to speak with. LinkedIn has none of these restrictions.

LinkedIn is always open. You get to target precisely those people you want to speak with, and approaching them electronically takes far less courage than doing so in person.

Tips for using LinkedIn to build a board network

Tip 1: Be clear about why you are connecting
65% of people are appointed to boards via a personal connection. But perhaps 50% of all appointments are made via personal connections they see rarely or infrequently. So connecting with people is vital. LinkedIn facilitates making, managing and nurturing board network connections.

TIP 2: Know who you should be connecting with
Linkedin has 35+ million members in the UK, so where do you start? First, be clear on what boards you want and can be appointed to. When it comes to developing the right board network connections, you must know the names of these organisations. From there, you can search LinkedIn to establish a list of who has associations with those organisations and who should be added to your board network.

Make use of the Hiring in your Network feature on the Jobs tab, where LinkedIn will notify you when 1st and 2nd-degree connections have roles open. All the more reasons to actively connect and build a board network on LinkedIn and connect to people associated with the organisations you are interested in.  

TIP 3: Use a 2-step approach
It is not enough to just be connected on LinkedIn. Let’s face it, having thousands of connections with whom you never communicate is unlikely to ever lead to a board appointment. Instead, to build a powerful board network, you must dedicate time and strategies to reap the benefit of LinkedIn.

I recommend a two-step approach. Initially, reach out with a ‘micro yes’ request. Following a successful connection request, respond with a structured response that is legitimate, authentic, customised and drives a relationship. My Executive Members learn how to confidently do this. However, using your board profile as a guide should help you write a message that promotes your value proposition in a legitimate and appropriate manner. 

TIP 4: Don’t ask for a job!
When establishing and nurturing LinkedIn connections, don’t ask for a job unless you know that there is a board role available. By doing so, you will come across as opportunistic and spurious.

TIP 5: Have a Board Fit LinkedIn profile
When reaching out with a connection request or for a follow-up conversation, it is essential that your LinkedIn profile is board fit. Your profile must include your board profile, board & committee roles, skills valuable to boards, and governance qualifications. I also suggest that you include organisations that you are passionate about in the Causes section.

TIP 6: Use your time wisely
The more time you dedicate to building your board network on LinkedIn, the more valuable your network will become and your network’s network. When done right, your board network will generate board opportunities for you. 

Start off by scheduling regular time slots to spend on the task. LinkedIn networking is one of those things that you need to be dedicated to and consistent with. Eventually, this task will become a habit. 

TIP 7: Just do it
Don’t take the task of connecting with people too seriously – what is the worst that could happen? LinkedIn is a networking platform, so most members are happy to engage and help, particularly when you have something in common. Be bold (but not too bold), introduce yourself, offer to help, be curious and enjoy the experience.

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About the Author

David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience in putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.

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