Authenticity is a hallmark of leadership. This article in The Harvard Business Review reiterates that saying, "people want to be led by someone real." Think about your own situation...whether you are running an organization, leading a team or building the skills that you'll need to become a leader, it starts with being true and authentic to who you are.

However, in this day and age, the definition of leadership is expanding. It's not just about your team anymore, because we're in the online age. Leaders are becoming a more visible public mouthpiece for the company, the brand and themselves. The term thought leader didn't even exist until recently. Now, as content marketing and social media fuels the way people find out about a company or product, leaders must be visible, communicative and interactive online.

But how do you be authentic in 140 characters? How do you convey a sense of who you are in a LinkedIn post? How do you communicate with a real voice in a blog post or an email?

Well, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Inc's own Social Media Editor Stephanie Meyers @theRightSteph and she shared a few key insights:

Regarding Twitter, Stephanie offered up this advice, "If you're using Twitter for business, make sure you regularly tweet about a hobby or passion." I couldn't agree more...even if thought-leadership is a goal for your Twitter account as a leader, nobody needs a barrage of industry news and links. Twitter is an ever expanding repository of information on every topic imaginable, so your content is in many ways a commodity. What makes people care about your Twitter account is a sense of who you are. Guy Kawasaki and Gary Vaynerchuk are great examples of people who do more than just Tweet about business.

Going beyond Twitter to Facebook and other social media platforms like blogs, Stephanie encourages leaders to "think about it as the type of relationship-building you might do at an industry cocktail party. People appreciate business information, sure, but they also like to find out what you have in common." Authenticity means connecting and even if it is in a digital realm, people connect with you as a person. If you do the extra work to see what matters to other people, then you'll be able to find out what you have in common and you'll instantly become a connection rather than an interruption or worse a peddler. My fellow Inc. writer Lolly Daskal does an awesome job of relating to others on Twitter, even with 8 million followers!

One more insight I gleaned from Stephanie on showing your authentic self is simple but very effective: Comment on links that you share or the blogs you read. Don't just hit Retweet or give a Thumbs Up. That doesn't take any thought or effort and it also gives you no opportunity to further develop your voice and your personal brand. People can't connect with a Like but a well thought out comment can start a conversation.

Finally, when you're communicating internally to your own team or company via a text or email, think about the recipient. You'll write an email in the way that you tend to operate. While it's who you are, I'd argue that it's not the right way to be an authentic leader. Think about how the person on the other end will hear this and then ask yourself if you'd communicate in that same way if you were sitting across the desk from them.

Leadership is becoming more challenging the more digital we get, because ultimately it's still about people. I try to be as authentic as possible in everything I do so I'll put my money where my mouth is. Check out my online persona and our company's online persona and let me know what you think. But please be authentic.

- Our company blog, where I and other leaders frequently write

- My Inc articles and those from other leaders at Emergenetics International

- Our company Twitter account, LinkedIn page and Facebook page

Published on: Mar 30, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.