“The more passionate and argumentative I get the more followers and friends I make online.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Couchsurfing: Change the World One Couch at a Time

Openness, Hospitality, & Intercultural Exchange
Couchsurfing is global travel social networking site that provides a platform for its' users to travel and "surf" on couches in the homes of other users they meet on the site.Couchsurfing is defined as "the practice of moving from one's friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few day's before moving on to the next house" Individuals who create profiles on Couchsurfing play roles as guests at a host's home, a host for other surfers, or as members of upcoming events on the site. Users refer to themselves as "Couchsurfers", "Surfers", or "CSers".
Couchsurfing was founded in 2004 as a non-profit volunteer-supported vertical Social Networking Site with users helping with everything regarding the design, up-keep and maintenance of the site. The Couchsurfers community was built on the principles of loyalty, transparency and trust and those principals definitely shine through the sites' values.

Couch Surfing 101
Users register and create profiles for free on Couchsurfing. On their profiles they can include information regarding themselves such as where they're from, where they want to go, why they love traveling, where they have been, if they will host other surfers as well as the accommodations they are willing to offer, photos from their Couchsurfing travels & experiences, and so much more!
Couchsurfing enrich the lives of their users by accomplishing 3 goals shown in the photo to the right.

Once members have established their profiles, they are encouraged to visit the Local Place Page of the city in which they currently reside to become familiar with Couchsurfers in the area and get tips and best practices from them, learn about that cities culture, join groups and events to mingle with other CSers in that area, as well as learn the tricks for hosting "surfers".
The home stay is worked out and mutually agreed upon in advance between the host and the guest & It is completely free;  no monetary exchanges take place whatsoever. However, it is common practice for surfers to give their host a gift, cook them a meal, or teach them a skill or trade they may be interested in.

The site provides various parameters, tips and guidelines in regards to user security. Users can use member references, user verification statuses, and the vouching system to measure the security and safety of the travels.

Members find hosts by using several filters of the site that can narrow down a search by age, location, gender and last login. Users join groups where they can seek travel partners, travel advice, organize outings, socials and activities based on their individual interests as well.

            Surfer Demographics

 *Currently there are 7 million members in over 100,000 cities worldwide
 *20% of Couchsurfers registered in the US (with Germany, France, Canada & England having large numbers of registered users)
*Paris is the city with the largest number of Cress
*The average age of a CSers is 28
*47% are women; 53% are men

See the Spectacular Infographic for more amazing, inspiring Surfer Demographics!

Couchsurfing goes Mobile!
In June of 2012, Couchsurfing launched the mobile app to compliment the desktop site.
The mobile app boasts it's an easy, mobile friendly way for CSers to search by location and narrow down the results using filters like age, gender, friends of friends and more straight from their smartphone while they are traveling! The complete list of what you can do on the app is listed below:

- Search for people to connect with
- Respond to and send CouchRequests
- Have conversations with upcoming hosts and surfers
 -View CouchSurfing cities on an interactive map
 - Write public CouchRequests
 - Easily view people’s profiles

But is Couchsurfing reaching it's full mobile potential? What about Proximity Marketing? It seems like they are not taking into account how much more great features and amenities Proximity Marketing can bring to the Couchsurfing user's mobile experience!

The Future of Couchsurfing
I believe Couchsurfing is an amazing social networking site that built a community of trust and transparency in an inexpensive way for those of us who love to travel, see the world and exchange cultural experiences. It definitely stands out from other social networking sites and one of the things that makes it so special to me is how close and solid the community of CSers is.  The level of loyalty and trust among users is mind-blowing. I don't even receive the same sense of loyalty and trust from some of my close friends, yet CSers have a strong sense of loyalty and trust from the beginning and it all derives from their love and desire to travel and experience the world. 

Couchsurfing has also done an amazing job at integrating their social networking site with other Social Media platforms. The site has a tumblr blog where users can submit their Couchsurfing experiences, read other users' stories, & search popular topics. They have a Facebook & Twitter account where they actively interact with their followers by posting statuses and tweets that engage their users by asking them things like "whats the best give you have given  a host" as well as posting pictures and highlighting user experiences. 

Couchsurfing have also taken full advantage of visual content based social networking sites like Youtube and Instagram. On their Youtube channel, CSers are greeted with a Couchsurfing Welcome video and then they can "surf" through other video content that includes safety tips, hosting best practices, surfer etiquette along with CSers experiences. They also held a Couchsurfing contest from users whose couchsurfing travel experiences got the most likes on youtube as well as the user who best demonstrated the "couchsurfing" mission and values.  The winner of the contest one a free plane ticket around the world! What a awesome way to get your users to interact and be engaged with your social network!

My favorite platform of theirs is their Pinterest board. They literally have board for everything a CSers would need to know before, during, and after their Couchsurfing experience. There is a board dedicated to "Share Your Love: Tips on Hosting", "A glimpse into the CS Headquarters", "Words to Inspire CSers Journey", "Stories from the Couch", and my personal favorite "Couches of the World"-a board dedicated to highlighting images of the various designs, styles and types of couches all of the world.

Couchsurfing has definitely done their research and selected the best Social Networking Sites that work alongside their platform to simultaneously enhance their users' experiences while tackling their Integrated Marketing Communications goals and objectives. However, there is always room for improvement…Couchsurfing is great now but it has the potential to be PHENOMENAL if they take advantage of proximity marketing. 

Considering that Couchsurfing is global travel social networking site, I was shocked to see that they haven't integrated much proximity marketing into their Integrated Marketing Campaign. It's hard to imagine a site dedicated to traveling the world without a solid, mind-blowing  established proximity marketing plan. Eventhough Couchsurfing is not built off of monetary exchanges for its' users, there are so many ways in which proximity marketing can further enhance the SNS and transform it from great to phenomenal! I've listed my suggestions below:

  1. On the mobile app, provide users with pop-up notifications when they are traveling and are in the vicinity of a CS host much like the WAZE GPS app does when a traveler is heading to a destination and hotel or motel is on the route.
  2. While the home stays are free, the mobile app could market services and skills of CSers in a destination in which a surfer is traveling. For example, I love to make scrapbooks, I would submit my Scrapbook company to the CS mobile app to market my service to CSers traveling to my area and wanting to buy  Customized Scrapbooks and photo albums.
  3. Restaurants, Popular Bars & Venues, Shopping & other Attractions should market on the Couchsurfing Mobile app as well. Couchsurfing could notify CSers of restaurants, malls, museums, and entertainment attractions that are nearby the home of their hosts. It's a win-win for both parties, the establishment will get business from new customers and expand their customer base and the users will get to experience all the attractions and amenities that particular city as to offer! And it wouldn't be hard to accomplish this! All Couchsurfing has to do is submit the interests, preferences and likes of their users to the companies and BOOM there you go!
I believe Proximity marketing will definitely enhance the CSers experience while subsequently transforming Couchsurfing from a great Social Media site to a phenomenal one! Proximity marketing will definitely help Couchsurfing carry out their goal of creating "a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection".