Social media is hot. The ability to interact, discuss, share and engage with customers, employees, partners and users is being integrated into almost every product or service possible at the moment. One of the primary reasons for this is the incredible success of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Every now and then, I get asked for advice on which site they should use and why – and so, here’s my take on the subject.

When it comes to social networking sites, there are only three primary options (sorry MySpace, Bebo and the rest): Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These sites are not mutually exclusive and I would recommend that you get involved on all three using the following guidelines:

Facebook. Due to the topics discussed, photos shared, etc – Facebook is best for personal relationships. Close friends. Old friends. Work colleagues with whom you have personal relationships. Use this platform to connect and reconnect but restrict it to personal relationships.

Facebook is for your “private network”.

LinkedIn. This is the best site for maintaining your professional / business network. Connect with former work colleagues, business partners, and people who you don’t know or would like to know within your industry. There are sections for recruitment so that you can find your next employee or your next job. You can also ask colleagues or clients to recommend your work to help build a more reputable/credible online profile. Use this platform for professional relationships (however loosely defined).

LinkedIn is for your “professional network”

Twitter. Twitter is not a website in the same way as Facebook and LinkedIn. Technically, Twitter is a “microblogging” platform. It is, however, starting to evolve into something closer to these two sites with recent functionality improvements such as follower suggestions (“friend finder”) and better list management (“groups”). It will be interesting to see just how far Twitter develops as a “destination” site instead of a platform over the next couple of years.

Twitter allows you to connect with a much broader group of people. These connections can be one-way – you can follow someone who does not necessarily follow you and you can “broadcast” information without getting too involved with discussion. But those who get the most our of Twitter create two-way connections by engaging those who they follow in conversation. Twitter is great for connecting with a large number of people and organisations without the formality of a “friend request”. You can follow anyone. Anyone can follow you.

Twitter is for your “public network”.

As illustrated above, which social networking site you use depends on the nature of the relationship and the degree of intimacy you have with that person. Obviously, people within your “private network” can be a part of your “professional” or “public” network, but it is not necessarily appropriate for people who you do not know, but are a part of your “public” network to be your Facebook friend.