TripAdvisor applies lessons from its other popular apps to new Local Picks restaurant review app

TripAdvisor’s revamped restaurant ratings app Local Picks helps users share where they’ve eaten and find new spots to try. The Facebook app also feeds TripAdvisor valuable data for its social travel site.

TripAdvisor is the No. 10 Facebook app developer according to our AppData tracking service. Five years since launch, its Cities I’ve Visited app still has 330,000 monthly active users — more than eight times as many users as its competitor Where I’ve Been. TripAdvisor’s biggest app, however, is its website integration with 33.2 million MAU. Now we’ll see if the company can find success in the crowded restaurant search and ratings space.

Local Picks brings TripAdvisor user’s ratings and reviews to the Facebook canvas with an algorithm that favors ratings from locals. The app also includes photos, check-ins and quick tips from Foursquare. Users can rate a restaurant, mark it as a favorite, indicate that they want to go there, or add the restaurant to a custom list, for example “Places to take a date.” These Open Graph actions will appear on Timeline and in News Feed.

Since its launch about a week and a half ago, Local Picks has reached about 70,000 monthly active users, according to AppData. The app had highs of 10,000 daily active users on Friday and Saturday. TripAdvisor Director of Product Jamie Conroy did not share details about how the app got this initial wave of users, though he says it wasn’t from an ad campaign.

TripAdvisor has some advantages over competitors like Yelp, in that it already has international scale and is making more use of social data. The app has 850,000 restaurants from more than 200 countries, and it will release translated versions later this month. Local Picks also pulls in ratings and reviews made on TripAdvisor.com, and displays friends’ Facebook check-ins, as seen in the image to the right. When users take action within Local Picks, that information can ultimately be used back on TripAdvisor. Not only will it provide more social context for a user’s friends who visit the site, but it could begin to give the company a better idea of a user’s tastes so that it can provide better recommendations to them in the future.

One problem Local Picks could face is that except for some power users, most users don’t continue to rate and review restaurants after the first time they use an app. Conroy says the Local Picks’ Open Graph integration will help draw users back into the app because they will see their friends’ activity in News Feed. There’s also a bit of gamification with users able to achieve higher “foodie levels” the more they interact with the app. However, with Local Picks unavailable for mobile, it might be difficult for users to remember to go home and rate the places they’ve tried.

Conroy says a Local Picks mobile app is something TripAdvisor is considering, but building the app within the Facebook canvas was first priority. He says having the app on Facebook is more familiar for users than if the app lived off-site. TripAdvisor has found this with its Cities I’ve Visited app. Conroy says Local Picks applies many of the learnings the company gained from its other app, including how it publishes to users’ Timelines and asks users to invite their friends, as well as the overall emphasis on lightweight interactions. Local Picks, like Cities I’ve Visited, gives users lists of other users’ top spots, and makes it easy for them to add their ratings.

Although TripAdvisor positions Local Picks as something people might use on a daily or weekly basis, this will be a challenge for the company. But even if users visit Local Picks once and add ratings for a few restaurants nearby, TripAdvisor can significantly expand its database of social travel recommendations. The Open Graph integration might prompt some users to rate more places down the line, and TripAdvisor could also run re-engagement campaigns, as it has for its other apps. Overall, though, the company and users will benefit even from one-time use, as long as the app achieves the same scale Cities I’ve Visited did over time.