On Thursday, LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD.DL) will report first-quarter results. The report comes at a critical time, following a nearly 40% decline in the stock price since the social network last reported earnings. While the typical items covered in the company's earnings release, such as revenue, EPS, and guidance, will be important to check in on, I'll also be watching another area that saw some turbulence in Q4: member metrics.

User logged into LinkedIn. Image source: LinkedIn.

Unique visiting members
When LinkedIn reported fourth-quarter results, a quick glance at the company's two key metrics that help investors understand how well engagement on the platform is progressing might have initially sparked some concern.

LinkedIn's unique visiting members, a metric that is defined by its monthly average unique visitor count during the quarter, saw much slower year-over-year growth than usual and actually failed to grow at all on a sequential basis. Total unique visiting members for Q4 were 100 million -- the same as in Q3.

And there's a trend of rapid deceleration in year-over-year growth in this metric. LinkedIn's unique visiting members were up 7%, year over year -- this compares to 11% year-over-year growth in Q3, 16% in Q2, and 18% in Q1.

It's worth noting that LinkedIn's total member count, when excluding the requirement to login every month, saw a significant increase. Total LinkedIn members hit 414 million in Q4 -- up 19% year over year and 4.5% sequentially. This compares to Q3's 20% year-over-year growth and 4.2% sequential growth in members. So, LinkedIn's sequential growth in total members in Q4 actually accelerated.

LinkedIn's unique visiting members have failed to grow on a sequential basis before. But if they remain at the same level for more than two quarters, this could be a red flag. So, look for the company to report more than 100 million monthly unique visitors.

Member page views
Another area of concern in LinkedIn's Q4 report was its member page views metric. Total page views during the quarter were 37 billion, down from 38 billion in the prior quarter. To LinkedIn's credit, however, page views were up 26%, year over year.

To get a closer look at engagement on the platform on a per user basis, investors can divide member page views by unique visiting members to glimpse trends in page views per unique visiting member. Page views per unique visiting member for Q4 were up 16% year over year, but down about 2.6% sequentially.

As is the case with LinkedIn's unique visiting members, investors should keep in mind that a single quarter of sequential decline in member page views isn't necessarily a red flag. Indeed, this isn't the first time member page views have pulled back sequentially. The last time this happened LinkedIn resumed growth in this metric just fine. Quarter-to-quarter variations in page are normal as LinkedIn tinkers with its offerings and the way its apps work, impacting how often people visit the website, as well as the quality of those visits.

However, with a quarter of poor sequential growth for both unique visiting members and page views metrics in the rearview mirror, this raises the stakes for the company to report some sequential improvements in these key metrics for Q1.

In LinkedIn's fourth-quarter earnings call, management was confident the online network for professionals would be able to continue to grow its unique visiting members and page views, going forward. Indeed, the company specifically noted its reimagined flagship app, which didn't launch until the last month of Q4, is exceeding management's expectations and should drive engagement.

When LinkedIn reports fourth-quarter results on Thursday, investors can see for themselves how growth in these member metrics is progressing.

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