In terms of online reviews and social media reception, a Wilmington tech startup’s app launch this week has gotten off to a rocky start. Backlash to a launch promotional event appeared to be affecting Likeli's online ratings on app download sites.
Likeli, a company that has developed an app it refers to as a “social compass,” launched a beta version
of the app this week by dropping cash and promotional materials from a helicopter Tuesday on University of North Carolina Wilmington students during the school’s annual beach blast celebration at Wrightsville Beach.
The publicity stunt has drawn the ire of Wrightsville Beach authorities, who are considering whether or not to issue citations if they can, and beachgoers, some of whom have blasted the company’s app in reviews, on Facebook and via other social media outlets.
As of about 2 p.m. Friday, the Likeli app had a one-star rating in the Apple App Store with 38 reviews. The overwhelming majority of the review commentaries were posted on Thursday and had nothing to do with the app but everything to do with a negative view of the company’s helicopter idea.
Someone with the username “Ocean appreciators” said, “This company just dumped thousands of pieces of trash in the ocean. What a horrible way to try and get publicity.”
Another user, listed as Taylor Warner, said “Literally downloaded this app just to write a review” before leaving a derogatory, one-star review centered on a dim view of the cash drop.
Dozens of other one-star reviews included similar comments.
One of the most recent reviews, posted by someone with the username “extremesailer,” gave the app five stars, saying “It’s really cool how you can see the best places to go out when you’re trying to find something to do.”
The app's overall rating was fairing better Friday on Google Play for Android devices at 3.4, but also included numerous negative reviews referencing Tuesday's event.
Likeli founder and CEO George Taylor III issued an apology
on the company’s Facebook page on Thursday afternoon.
“As most of you are aware, on Tuesday the 16th we hired a helicopter pilot to take us over Wrightsville Beach, where we intended to drop $1,000 cash and promotional material over the sand. The ‘stunt did not go as planned and we ended up dropping those items into the water. Not only did we potentially harm the wildlife and dirty the water, but we were unable to gain access for cleanup team, leaving the responsibility of the remaining mess on event staff,” Taylor wrote. “While there is no way to go back and change our actions, we believe it is important to try to make right on our mistake.”
Taylor said that the company was reaching out to those who had messaged or emailed, to formally apologize and to ask for feedback on making amends.
“While a public apology like this is absolutely necessary, we also welcome the chance to apologize personally to anyone affected,” Taylor wrote. “As a first step towards making amends for this, we are hosting a beach cleanup day. We’re scheduling it for Sunday August 21st, and we’ll continue to keep everyone up to date with future efforts as we work to form relationships with organizations who can help us make a greater impact.”
Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said the company has received a permit for a beach clean-up event.
As far as possible citations for Likeli or the helicopter company, “We’re just trying to see what options are out there,” Owens said. “We talked to the D.A. [local district attorney's office]; I’m consulting with the town attorney. There’s FAA regulations; there’s state statutes; there’s civil citation-type stuff.”
He said once town officials have weighed the options, they’ll likely decide next week “whether we want to proceed on anything or not.”