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City does networking on the cheep

The city of Farmington is expanding its social network, 140 characters at a time.

On June 16 the city posted its first message on Twitter, an invitation to Farmington residents to check out the Dew Days celebration. That message largely fell on deaf ears -- as of Monday the city had just 11 followers on the site, which allows users to post brief text updates, and it had even fewer then. But human resources director Brenda Wendlandt hopes Twitter will become an effective tool for getting the city's messages out to residents.

Twitter is the city's second attempt at social networking. There is also a city presence on Nixle, a similar site designed specifically with cities in mind. City leaders set up that account as a sort of compromise after hearing questions about whether material posted on sites like Twitter or Facebook would have to be archived, and whether the city would have to police comments left by users.

Wendlandt said those concerns are less significant with Twitter than they are with Facebook, which allows longer messages and ties reader responses more directly to the original comment.

"With Twitter there's not a whole lot of information," Wendlandt said. "You can only have 140 characters."

For the time being, much of the information the city sends out through Twitter will be available elsewhere -- on Nixle, on the city's web page or in the newspaper. But Wendlandt is in the process of exploring other uses for the site. She's watching accounts set up for the city of Minnetonka and the city of Edina, which posts messages when roads will be closed for construction or when special city meetings are scheduled.

Since that first message June 16 the city's account has been used just four times -- to announce the cancellation of Dew Days' Flavors of Farmington event, to announce the opening of the city's farmer's market and to give notice of city council and economic development authority meetings.

The Farmington School District has an active Twitter account it uses to post links to news stories about the district or to announcements on the district's web page.

The city has used it's Nixle page to announce things like dates for citywide cleanup events and closure of city offices.

Wendlandt said she and other employees will watch as new information becomes available and decide what should go out to residents.

"We're just going to depend on employees like I always have to help me get the message out there," Wendlandt said. "We just want to make sure, as the public wants to make sure, that our message is consistent."

You can find the city of Farmington on Twitter at

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606