Surfacing Activities on Records in Dynamics CRM: The Social Pane vs. Sub-Grids

Since the debut of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013, the Social Pane was introduced to show information regarding activities (Posts, Activities, and Notes) on and related to records. The interface of the Social Pane presents activity information in an easily viewable grid format that you can see at a glance along with in-line editing capabilities. However, as with any tool, the Social Pane has its advantages and its considerations. As a designer of the CRM user interface, understanding these differentiating aspects of the Social Pane is important–especially when deciding when and where to use the Social Pane versus sub-grids.

Glanceable: As you can see from the screenshot below, the Social Pane’s user experience presents information regarding Posts, Activities, and Notes in a more compact and glanceable format than is available with a sub-grid. The number of characters displayed, while somewhat dependent on the form layout, can be noticeably larger than what sub-grids permit.

Tabbed Interface: The tabbed interface, visible above, lets you rapidly flip between the three types information (Posts, Activities, and Notes) presented in the Social Pane feed. Sub-grids do have a similar capability view called the View Selector. However, the View Selector only permits choosing between different views of the same entity or, in the case of Activities, entity type. The Social Pane allows you to rapidly switch between Posts, Activities, and Notes all within the same control.

In-Line Editing: The Social Pane permits users to enter information directly into an in-line editing interface.

This allows users to record their activities for a given record without having to leave the record they are currently viewing or wait for a new window to pop open over the current one. Sub-grids for Activities, on the other hand, spawn a new window for the creation of an Activity record.

Party List Fields: Party List fields are a special type of field in CRM that allow you to enter multiple references to other records—which could be Accounts, Contacts, or Leads—in the same field. For more information regarding Party List fields, please visit Party List fields and how to filter Custom Activity records that use them using Advance Find.

One of the greatest advantages of the Social Pane is that it will display the Activity on all records referenced via the Party List field. When displaying Activities via a sub-grid, only the records directly related via a Lookup type field (in the example screenshot below, that field is named Regarding) will be displayed via the related records setting for the grid.

So, the Social Pane will display the Appointment record being created above on all four Contact records, whereas, a sub-grid would only display the Appointment record for the Contact listed in the Regarding field.


Flexibility: Dynamics CRM is highly configurable and customizable. However, the Social Pane is a slight exception to this. While you can determine, on a form by form basis, which tab (Posts, Activities, or Notes) is displayed by default (see below), you cannot hide or remove a tab.

This means that if the design of an entity form calls for only Notes or only Activities, all three tabs will always be visible to the user, which could cause confusion depending on the nature of the design. With a sub-grid, you can limit a user to just Activities or even just a specific activity type.
Additionally, the fields displayed in the Social Pane are not configurable either, whereas, a sub-grid permits you to choose your columns, their order, their widths, and allows specifying filter criteria. The Social Pane is fixed in regards to the fields displayed in its list view and the filter criteria applied.

In-Line Editing: While in-line editing is an advantage of the Social Pane, it may be too simplified for some business uses. With the Social Pane, only Phone Call and Task activities can be created in-line. Any other Activity available via the Social Pane will push you to a new screen for creating the Activity record. A sub-grid, on the other hand, would pop open a window over the current page.

Whether to use the Social Pane or a sub-grid to display activity information is a question you will have to answer based upon the needs of your end-user processes. Hopefully, our blog today will help you find the solution that works best for you! If you would like to learn more about MS Dynamics CRM 2013 or any other versions, make sure you check out our website!
Happy CRM’ing!