Last week I attended a webinar with Andrea Weckerle, the founder of CiviliNation, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting online hostility and character assassination. I found many of the concepts she shared to be very interesting, so the next couple of Mondays I thought I'd share some of my thoughts based upon the notes I took during the presentation. I like the idea of trying to do something to increase the civility of dialog online (and in the workplace for that matter). In fact, many of her discussion points also apply offline. I'm a big believer in the value of social media for small business, but anyone online for any length of time will quickly notice that dealing with criticism fits hand in glove with an online presence. Some businesses seem to do pretty well at handing less-than-positive comments, while others seem to make things worse. With that being said, it really doesn't matter if you're online or not, your customers and prospective customers are online saying things about you. The only difference between the business online and the one that isn't is whether or not you get to see and deal with the criticism. Wckerle identifies four different types of the critics you might have to deal with. I agree that sometimes you'll likely be faced with one or two of them. Let's start there: \tThe Troll: This type of critic does it for fun. They usually hide behind an anonymous handle and often use inflammatory language and images to get a reaction. You won't be able to reason with a Troll so don't bother. Deleting criticism flies in the face of how I prefer to deal with online criticism, but that's all you can do with a Troll. They're in it for kicks and giggles. They are likely not even a real customer. Delete, ban, and move on. \tThe Sockpuppet: This type of critic uses a false identity. They claim to be someone they're not. Like the Troll, they have no intention of coming to a resolution, their goal is to be deceptive. \tThe Defamer: Defamation is a legal term and has a specific definition. For a statement to be defamatory it needs to be false and made with malice of intent. Causing injury is not enough to make a statement defamatory. \tDifficult People: By far the biggest group of problems online, they like to argue. Sometimes they are even intentionally mean-spirited. Sometimes they are people who just don't know what they're talking about. With that in mind, remember that arguing online is liking having an argument with your neighbor in the middle of the street—you're not going to do anything but look stupid. Next Monday we'll talk about some strategies for dealing with complaints and critics online and how to resolve problems and keep your dignity.