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Former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant talks to media outside the Toronto Police Traffic Services on Sept. 1, 2009. (Darren Calabrese/Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
Former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant talks to media outside the Toronto Police Traffic Services on Sept. 1, 2009. (Darren Calabrese/Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Michael Bryant's political strategy: PR 2.0 Add to ...

The seeds of Michael Bryant's campaign for political survival have been sown in the fertile soil of social media.

A blog and a Twitter account are being tended by Navigator Limited, the public-relations firm hired by Mr. Bryant shortly after a fatal collision with cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard.

Even Mr. Bryant's Facebook page got a makeover, his candid profile picture replaced by a tidy head shot and links to the statement he released the morning after the accident posted on his wall.

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The blog and Twitter account, Bryantfacts.wordpress.com and @bryantfacts, are modest (the Twitter account has only 21 followers) and generally respond to what others have written and posted on Twitter and YouTube.

"The police have dismissed the allegation that Mr. Bryant fled the scene of the accident," reads an entry posted Monday to the blog. "Mr. Bryant and his wife pulled off the road and immediately called 911. Police have also dismissed any suggestion that Mr. Bryant was intoxicated."

Dan Robertson, of Navigator Limited, wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that the sites were being maintained on behalf of Mr. Bryant and that he couldn't elaborate on the work his company did for a client.

"From day one, there has been speculation, innuendo and rumour," the e-mail read. "It is perfectly fair to insist on accuracy, especially at a time when Mr. Bryant is not able to publicly tell his side of the story."

It has become standard fare for public-relations firms to use social media to help shape the tides of public opinion, according to Sidney Eve Matrix, a professor at Queen's University's Film and Media Department.

"I'm not surprised that they're there [on a blog and Twitter] they have to be there if they want to influence the sway of public opinion and influence the way that this story is trending," she said.

Navigator Limited is the same firm that handled Brian Mulroney's public relations during the Oliphant inquiry, a public inquiry into the former prime minister's dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber. Throughout the proceedings, the firm maintained a blog, Mulroneymediaroom.com, and posted updates with blogging software from Coveritlive.com.

"A PR firm, particularly one that's engaging in crisis communications and offers services for crisis situations like Bryant's, the number one thing you do in crisis communications is get out front of the message and Twitter is the absolute front line of people's reactions," said Greg Elmer, a media expert and professor at Ryerson University.

It's only in the past four or five months that the corporate and private sectors, including public-relations firms, have come to recognize platforms like Twitter as the place where the public's first impressions are born, he added.

After reviewing the Bryantfacts blog and Twitter site, Ms. Matrix said that Mr. Bryant's public-relations team wasn't maximizing the potential of these social-media platforms.

"It looks like they're trying to cover their social-media bases but they're doing it in a very thin way," she said, noting that there were only four tweets from the Twitter account. "That can backfire on you because then people will go there and they will see you have nothing to say."

She said that the messages might be more powerful if they seemed to be coming more directly from Mr. Bryant, rather than his public-relations team.

"The purpose of these two sites is not to challenge opinion or different points of view," Mr. Robertson wrote. "The sole purpose is to correct demonstrable errors in fact and respond to potentially slanderous comments wherever they may appear."

 

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