Social media has the potential to connect us. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more, social media offers the opportunity to spread our ideas and to allow us to interact with people we might never otherwise meet.

I’ve seen this in my own life. A few years ago, I joined an author’s Facebook group and connected with a number of new people around the country. Some of these women have become my best friends. I’ve met them in person, traveled with them, and even attended one of the women’s weddings!

But this is all only possible because I’ve been honest, both in my online presence and in our interactions. They know that the person I put out there online is really me. We can trust each other.

The internet allows a layer of anonymity that can be dangerous. It’s easy to misrepresent ourselves. We can hide the bad stuff and put forth the best version of ourselves. We can give advice while not following it ourselves. And we may be able to hold the illusion . . . for a time.

But eventually the illusion gives way to the truth. The truth always comes out, as we’re seeing in the news daily. When it does, at best it can cause tension in a relationship. At worst, it can ruin a career or damage a relationship beyond repair.

For thought leaders, having integrity in your online relationships is even more important. Do your actions line up with what you teach and what you espouse online? Do you practice what you preach? Are you more concerned with gaining followers than in really helping them? Are you who your social profiles say you are?

For thought leaders, your audience needs to be able to trust you. This doesn’t mean they need to know every personal detail or flaw. But they do need to trust that you believe and practice what you teach.

If you’re looking for a way to test your integrity, Whitney shared four ways earlier this month. These steps can also be applied to your online presence. I’d encourage you to take a look back at your social media page, or ask a friend who knows you to take a look. Does who you are online match who you are in real life? If not, what can you do to be more authentic?

As we’re moving into a new year, now is the perfect time to reassess your online interactions and persona. Let’s make 2018 a year of honesty and integrity, both in person and online.