BACKGROUND Increasing the effective targeting and promotion of self-care support for long-term conditions requires more of a focus on patient contexts and networks. The aim of this paper is to describe how within a programme of research and implementation, social networks are viewed as being centrally involved in the mobilisation and deployment of resources in the management of a chronic condition. This forms the basis of a novel approach to understanding, designing, and implementing new forms of self-management support. METHODS Drawing on evidence syntheses about social networks and capital and the role of information in self-management, we build on four conceptual approaches to inform the design of our research on the implementation of self-care support for people with long-term conditions. Our approach takes into consideration the form and content of social networks, notions of chronic illness work, normalisation process theory (NPT), and the whole systems informing self-management engagement (WISE) approach to self-care support. DISCUSSION The translation and implementation of a self-care agenda in contemporary health and social context needs to acknowledge and incorporate the resources and networks operating in patients' domestic and social environments and everyday lives. The latter compliments the focus on healthcare settings for developing and delivering self-care support by viewing communities and networks, as well as people suffering from long-term conditions, as a key means of support for managing long-term conditions. By focusing on patient work and social-network provision, our aim is to open up a second frontier in implementation research, to translate knowledge into better chronic illness management, and to shift the emphasis towards support that takes place outside formal health services.