Summary The increasing pervasiveness of the internet and social networking globally presents new opportunities and challenges for empirical social science researchers including those in nursing. Developments in computer-mediated communication are not static and there is potential for further advances and innovation in research methods embracing this technology. The aim of this paper is to present a reflexive account and critique of the use of social media as a means of data collection in a study that sought to explore the aesthetics of clinical leadership in contemporary nursing. In doing so, comparisons are drawn from using Twitter, Facebook and e-learning announcements as methods of recruitment and subsequent data collection via an online survey. The pragmatics of the internet and online social networks as vehicles for data collection are discussed. While questions remain about best practice to safeguard the scientific integrity of these approaches and the researchers and research participants who choose to participate, the potential exists for researchers to enhance and expand research methods without compromising rigour and validity. In the interests of sharpening thinking about this means of data collection dialogue and debate are needed on a range of research aspects including but not limited to pragmatics, new requirements in research training and development, legal and ethical guidelines and strengths and limitations encountered.