Can you feel it? NFL Free Agency officially, unofficially, begins today at 1PM PT. Agents are permitted to start speaking with clubs about their clients today, but the teams cannot meet with players or sign any deals until Wednesday at 1PM PT. With that in mind, here are a few things to be aware of as the NFL offseason roller coaster nears the apex of its first drop.
Beware the rumor mill
This time of year can be a blast on Twitter, with news breaking around the clock. I have lost entire days just staring at Tweetdeck on my monitor. I enjoy it so much, I’m considering taking some time off this week just so I can fully indulge.
That said, following free agency on Twitter is fraught with peril. There is very little cost to spreading baseless rumors. In fact, there is built-in incentives to do exactly that because it results in a flood of (mostly) temporary followers.
I have fallen for it before, and almost definitely will again. The frustration of false hope has helped me figure out some tactics that can greatly reduce these sort of mistakes.
1. Check the source
It only takes a second to click/tap on the name of the person tweeting the news. I look for a few different things:
What is their follower count? Anything below 5,000 is questionable
What is their follower:follows ratio? If it is close to 1:1, be skeptical.
Are they verified? If they have a checkmark, it’s a good bet they have information other people want.
Are they a reporter? Local or national, reporters are trained to steer clear of baseless rumors. It’s not a sure bet, but it is a point in their favor.
Are their reputable people following them? Twitter tells you some of their best follows. If you trust those people, and they trust this person…
2. Watch out for fake accounts
There are a flood of fake tweets that come out. Following the steps above will help give you a clue, but just simple spelling of their names matters as well. It can be easy to mistake Adam Shefter with Adam Schefter, especially if someone has fakes a blue verified checkmark on their Twitter pic.
3. Use Tweetdeck
Hardcore football fans will benefit from using a hardcore Twitter app. Tweetdeck can be accessed at http://tweetdeck.twitter.com, and you can sign in with your normal Twitter credentials.
Tweetdeck allows you to create streams of content instead of just your normal feed. Want to know the latest news on Kelechi Osemele? Search for his name and then click Add Column to create a feed of every tweet in the world containing his name. Add as many columns as you want.
It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will never go back.
4. Refine your searches
Tweetdeck allows you to have some control over your search columns. Specifically, you can limit your search by user or by engagement.
Engagement limits help weed out some of the baseless tweets and bot tweets. If the tweet has no retweets or likes, the chances are pretty low that it is news that matters.
I have had some experiences where these settings did not appear to work properly, and I missed some breaking news as a result. I generally rely on the amount of activity (e.g., how fast are new tweets coming in) to help me determine if there is news worth paying attention to, so I don’t use engagement limits any longer. Still, these can be useful for folks still adjusting to Tweetdeck.
Another refinement you can put on your search is by user type. Specifically, you can limit your search to only verified users.
This comes in handy when tweets are flooding in so fast that you can’t even read them. Your column will calm down when you limit it to just tweets by people who have been verified. This is also a useful thing to do when you come back to your desk and want to catch up on the reliable news.
5. BREAKING: This doesn’t mean much
People like to break news. It is tough to completely ignore headlines like this when you see them come by, but be sure to take a breath and follow some of the steps above before retweeting or believing what you read.
Have fun & don’t be a jerk
Professional reporters make mistakes. I know all these rules, and I will make mistakes. This is NFL free agency, not heart surgery, so try to keep the mistakes in context.
This can be a thrilling time of the year, even if your team is not signing a bunch of big names. Young men are fulfilling their dreams. The balance of power can shift in the NFL from one minute to the next.
Great teams are rarely (never?) built through free agency, but key cogs in a championships often are found this way. The Cowboys grabbing Charles Haley and Deion Sanders, the Packers adding Reggie White, the Seahawks signing Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, are all examples of good teams becoming great with free agency.
Twitter was made for weeks like this. The NFL Draft is fun, but it is often fifteen minutes or more between meaningful nuggets of news. There will be a few dozen players signed within the first hour of free agency, and you will have access to it on Twitter well before it makes its way onto TV, the web, or the radio.