Twitter and Facebook are hardly the places most suburbanites turn for news about their garbage collection.

But in the past few months, Falcon Heights, Minnetonka and Edina have become suburban government pioneers, tapping Twitter to send instant alerts on everything from snow emergencies to spring sewer back-ups.

The Falcon Heights parks department also is posting all notices to summer staff on Facebook because it's "more efficient." And Eden Prairie regularly uploads videos on YouTube, including a city promotional video in 13 languages.

Suburbs across the metro are rushing to embrace social networking sites to reach younger residents, reduce publishing costs and spread the news instantly about city issues big and small.

The technology still attracts relatively few users, in part because it's new and in part because much of the "news" is not exactly urgent. ("Today is NOT recycling day," reports one posting.) But suburban leaders have high hopes for the future.

"Everybody's trying to figure out how to best do this, similar to when websites first became prevalent," said Justin Miller, Falcon Heights city manager. "Who can post? Who can publish? What's appropriate to put out there? These are the types of questions we think about."

Suburban governments are new to the social networking world, said Steve Lunceford, creator of, a new national website that tracks government organizations using Twitter. Twin Cities suburbs are ahead of the curve, he said.

"They're certainly at the forefront of local government reaching out to their citizens in new and different ways," said Lunceford, based in Washington, D.C.

While many suburbs have experimented with YouTube and Facebook, eyes are now on Twitter, a social networking service that allows users to send and receive short messages known as "tweets" on their cell phones or via e-mail. In November, Minnetonka became the first Twin Cities suburb to sign on.

"We already have a city newsletter for people who like printed information," said Jacque Larson, community relations manager. "We have a website. A cable bulletin board. My Minnetonka (personalized e-mail blasts). We wanted something different."

Nearly 100 people now get tweets from the site.

Edina followed suit last month. It already had a Facebook page and was using YouTube for monthly news and talk shows. Twitter looked promising, especially because the city website was getting nearly 2 million hits a month, said Jennifer Bennerotte, Edina's communications director.

"Edina is hiring volunteer firefighters," announced the first tweet, linking readers to more information. Next came postings such as "Interested in adult softball?" and "Create your own ceramics."

Minneapolis and St. Paul are also getting into the game. Next week Minneapolis will launch a Twitter feed for major news stories, said Sara Dietrich, city spokeswoman. It has a snow emergency page on Facebook and plans to launch other pages with strategic focus in the months ahead.

St. Paul Public Works Department, meanwhile, last month launched a Twitter service for snow emergencies. Thanks to links from local news channels, the number of tows and tickets during the ensuing snowstorm dropped about 40 percent, said James Lockwood, an aide to St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman.

Ken Salzberg of Falcon Heights receives the tweets. The Hamline University law professor is spending a year in California and appreciates the short updates.

"A week ago I learned about some changes at the farmers market," Salzberg said. "This week I just learned that a friend had died. The other items, like reminders to clear snow off the sidewalk, just bring a smile to my face."

Suburbs acknowledge they have to be careful as they embrace the technologies. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined may not reach the same number of residents as regular e-mail or snail mail. There's also a risk of creating a site and nobody paying attention -- especially if the content is weak.

Recent suburban tweets, for example, include such bits as: "Wow. Compost bin sign-ups are exceeding our expectations" and "This would be a good weekend to get the rest of that ice off your sidewalk."

Scott Neal, Eden Prairie city manager, said his city is preparing to launch a Facebook page this summer, but wants to ensure it contains information residents want. "It needs to have a real function," he said.

"The challenge of all of this is to sustain it. It's exciting to implement a new technology, but sustaining it is hard when it loses its caché."

Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553