Minnesota citizens may be a wellspring of ideas on how to pay for city services in this era of tight budgets, the League of Minnesota Cities says, and the organization is launching a social media campaign intended to bring them to the table.

The league posted a snappy 3-minute animated video, set to slam-poetry, on YouTube.com last week. It seeks to bring attention to the financial crunch that cities are facing and its impact on services such as snowplowing and pothole repair, and on departments such as police, fire, libraries and parks.

The campaign's goal is to get people talking about the budget problems and proposing solutions. But the first challenge is just getting people to watch. The league sent e-mails to its 800 member-cities promoting the video in the hope that people will forward it to friends and post it on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

"Some cities have used social media this way, but this is a new approach for us," said Mary-Margaret Zindren, the league's director of communications. "Word of mouth is the best advertising and we are banking on that."

Zindren said using social media is a cost-conscious way to engage citizens "who have something to say" about what services cities offer and how they should be paid for.

The video, produced by firms Reelworks and Fairly Painless Advertising, can be seen at www.youtube.com/outsidetheox. Viewers can then go to the league's blog site at www.outsidetheox.org to post thoughts, opinions and ideas, and respond to entries made in Facebook posts. Those unfamiliar with social media sites can weigh in by e-mail or, later this summer, in person at the league's booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

Zindren said the information gathered over the next six months to a year will be shared during community sessions that are still in the planning stages. For now, she said, the league just wants to get people talking.

"Minnesotans have a history of fixing things and getting together to get things done," Zindren said. "We want to engage the public in broader thinking; it won't come from us enmeshed in public policy."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768