Who The F–k Is Sam Houston and Why Is He Messaging Me!?!

A belated explanation

(Please note, the author in no way agrees with or endorses personal attacks on Sam Houston or any other CS employee or user.)

Sam Houston is a 25-year-old Community Manager at Couchsurfing the company who started working there in mid-November 2012. Prior to beginning work at CS, he had relatively little experience with CS, which he joined on October 22, 2012 as indicated by his CS profile. It appears that he has had prior work experience as a community manager.

Prior to several weeks ago, few Couchsurfing users had probably heard of him. He likely would’ve been mostly known among the CS ambassadors who posted in and read the Ambassadors Group, a CS message board that he moderates along with three other CS employees, and users who followed now deleted Feedback Forum. He also would’ve been known to the CS users he privately messaged regarding their promoting of BeWeclome on their user profiles and on CS’s message boards.

Over the past several weeks, the name “Sam Houston” has drawn a lot of curiosity, because he has been posting on non-CS owned websites and social media accounts in an apparent effort to offer company responses to CS users who are dissatisfied with CS the company and website. This is likely an unusual step for a company to take, both from a customer relations and a public relations standpoint. Rather than restricting company responses to its own website and social media accounts, Sam has been identifying himself as a CS Community Manager and responding to CS users posting on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and now Quora. At this time, it is unknown if he has been responding to CS users in an official capacity on other social media websites or if other CS employees have been directed to use their personal social media accounts in the same way as Sam.

In addition, it does not appear that CS the company has addressed users’ concerns through their Facebook page or blog, beyond the initial two posts denying that the two banned ambassadors were deleted out of censorship, posts that were created on March 1st and 7th. Instead, it appears that CS the company, through its employee Sam, is following and responding to users as they post elsewhere on the Internet. This has confused many users, drawn the ire of others, and a few view it as stalking. As a result, Sam has become the butt of jokes and memes, as well as the target of angry personal attacks, both on the CS website and elsewhere, to the point that CEO Tony Espinoza confronted CS ambassadors about it in the Ambassadors Group.

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Full bio on CS’s blog: “Sam Houston is a community manager at Couchsurfing, with a past life in the music and video game industries. He lives in San Francisco, where he enjoys cycling, listening to music and going to concerts.”

Bio on About.Me: “Community Manager at @Couchsurfing. Music Lover, Gamer, Socializer. Passionate about online communities, people, social media, music, connecting brands with fans, and having a good time. Living in San Francisco and loving it – from the Midwest/Ohio.” … “Prior to Couchsurfing, I was Community Manager at several different technology companies. I was the Community Manager at BandPage, Electronic Arts (Origin, Playfish), and gamerDNA. At Couchsurfing I’m working hard to shephard the amazing and passionate community of travelers, helping transition from the company’s old site and technology into our new platform that will bring about the next generation of Couchsurfing.”

CS Profile: http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/samhoustonsf/

Reddit: QforQ  CS Community Manager (See http://www.reddit.com/r/couchsurfing/ for posts)

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Quote from Sam Houston’s response to the question “What is happening on Couchsurfing,” posted on Quora.com on 3/22/13:
(For the full post, please see http://www.quora.com/Sam-Houston/answers/CouchSurfing)

“Couchsurfing is going through a tough and awkward transition, from an old site that was coded by volunteers years ago, to an entirely new site that is coded and operated by a corporation. To some people, that transition (both technology transition and company transition) is not something that they are OK with, and they are upset. Others are upset because some programs have been shut down, or various features haven’t been created/finished yet.

There’s also a group of people that have attempted to bombard Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc claiming that Couchsurfing is censoring and deleting members that “speak out” against Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing isn’t doing this – and I offer as proof the fact that people have started to attack me personally, as well as Couchsurfing’s CEO, and those people haven’t been deleted. There are a few groups on the site that basically exclusively talk about how terrible Couchsurfing the organization is, but those people haven’t been deleted either. Simply stated: Couchsurfing is not deleting people because of what they say about Couchsurfing.”

CEO Tony Espinoza Responding to CS Users in Ambassadors Group

WHAT IS A CS AMBASSADOR?

“Ambassadors” are CS users that have been selected by CSHQ to have a special yellow flag designation and text on their profiles. They are basically CSers that have been longtime voluntary cheerleaders and evangelists for the CS website. They do not automatically have any special powers or functions, though they are generally very involved in their host city. They typically host a large number of surfers, act as a referral source in emergencies and mediator in user disputes, organize local events and couch crashes, moderate on message boards, and communicate directly with CSHQ about users’ concerns.

Before the new CS Ambassador Guidelines, which were released in or around March 2013, ambassadors were free to criticize the CS website, talk about safety issues created by the website and within CS, and share both their positive and negative experiences with other CS users.

WHAT IS THE AMBASSADORS GROUP?

The ambassadors group is a message board that is currently public for anyone with a CS account to read without having to join the group. Only ambassadors are allowed to post in the group and the group is moderated by CS employees.

AMBASSADORS GROUP CHANGES FROM “PUBLIC” TO “PRIVATE” AND BACK TO “PUBLIC”

Around the time Don Shine, one of the Berlin ambassadors, was banned, the Ambassadors group was changed from “public” to “private” by the company. This change means that non-Ambassador users could no longer see what was being posted there. In addition, the group’s page lists new guidelines, including the perceived loyalty clause: “Couchsurfing Ambassadors do not actively discourage other Couchsurfing members from continuing to use the Couchsurfing site in their profiles, events, Place Pages, Groups, etc.” Under the list of guidelines, it says “Failure to adhere to these rules can result in the dismissal from the Ambassador Group, as well as the removal of the Ambassador Yellow Flag from your profile. Appropriate Ambassador behavior will be evaluated at the discretion of Couchsurfing staff. If you choose not to abide by the Ambassador Guidelines, we invite you to email …@… to request your Ambassador Flag to be removed.”

As of March 13, the Ambassadors Group was changed from “Private” back to its original designation of “Public” and therefore is visible to users without the “Ambassador” designation. The guidelines, including the one that’s perceived as a loyalty clause, are unchanged.

CEO TONY ESPINOZA RESPONDING TO CS AMBASSADORS IN AMBASSADOR GROUP
https://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=2125

Please see the links below:

“Direct Discussion with Tony Espinoza (CEO)”  https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14262863#post14270267

“Tony Espinoza (CEO) Discussion – Week 2” https://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=2125&post=14288458

WHY IS THE CEO RESPONDING IN THE AMBASSADORS GROUP AND NOT MORE PUBLICLY?

While the CEO is publicly responding in the ambassadors group, where any CS user can see it, it does not appear that the ambassadors group is widely known or viewed by non-ambassadors and therefore the vast majority of CS users. In addition, by being a place where only logged-in CS users can read what he is saying, it’s possible that this is an attempt by CSHQ to speak to users in a way that is not easily viewable by non-CS users and a belated attempt to contain negative feedback to the CS website, and is therefore a public relations tactic. For example, the CEO could just as easily post intended website fixes/changes on CS’s official blog as well as react to member’s concerns there or through mass direct messages, but as of now, this has not happened.

 

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