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Online social networks for patient involvement and recruitment in clinical researchAim To review current literature and discuss the potential of online social networking to engage patients and the public and recruit and retain participants in clinical research. Background Online social networking is becoming a large influence on people’s daily lives. Clinical research faces several challenges, with an increasing need to engage with patients and the public and for studies to recruit and retain increasing numbers of participants, particularly in under-served, under-represented and hard to reach groups and communities. Data sources Searches were conducted using EMBASE, BNI, ERIC, CINAHL, PSYCHinfo online databases and Google Scholar to identify any grey or unpublished literature that may be available. Review methods This is a methodology paper. Discussion/Conclusion Online social networking is a successful, cost-effective and efficient method by which to target and recruit a wide range of communities, adolescents, young people and underserved populations into quantitative and qualitative research. Retention of participants in longitudinal studies could be improved using social networks such as Facebook. Evidence indicates that a mixed approach to recruitment using social networking and traditional methods is most effective. Implications for practice/research Further research is required to strengthen the evidence available, especially in dissemination of research through online social networks. Researchers should consider using online social networking as a method of engaging the public, and also for the recruitment and follow up of participants.