Procial Networks” is a phrase that plays off “social networks” – think Facebook or MySpace, only designed and maintained to support “professionals” instead of the broad masses, singles or college kids.

I had hoped to be the first off the line to coin the phrase “procial,” but I gots to give props to YS Librarian for being the first to use it – at least that I could find. Fair is fair, right?

Hey, at least I got the silver.

But how Procial Networks play out for small and medium sized manufacturers (SMMs) is much more complex than a catchy phrase suggests. With apologies to Facebook, manufacturers don’t react well to being “poked.” While many elements of social networks could absolutely benefit manufacturers (more on that in a minute), they need more sophisticated tools, platforms and communicative structures/ecosystems to interact AND COLLABORATE in support of their primary function in life – to design and make things.

The big boys already have substantial skin in the Procial Network game, and they’ve seen tangible, lucrative results – Eli Lilly, IBM, and Proctor & Gamble are among the most noteworthy (see links below for more). These models (and others) offer excellent examples of community building and “crowd sourcing” online, and they point the way for others. But the Procial Networks they’ve developed are primarily focused on their specific businesses strategies (as Intranets, Extranets, or channels targeted to finite engineering or expert demographics).

I’m certainly not faulting these cats for making dough for themselves and their shareholders, but it seems to me that these examples ignore a fundamental strength that more open Procial Networks could bring to the party: networking.

We’re all learning, living and functioning in a global urn of burnin’, supply- and value-chain funk these days. Shouldn’t the point of Procial Networks – at least some of them – be to support the engagement of designers, engineers and manufacturers across national, corporate and technical borders and oceans? Shouldn’t Procial Networks empower them to create collaborative clusters with the best they can find, regardless of where or what they are? Aren’t these the qualities that have launched MySpace and Facebook into the stratosphere? Why can’t SMMs capitalize on the same eco-structure to find partners, suppliers and new business channels?

What seems to be missing here so far is something many manufacturers rarely encounter or value: the element of discovery. There is immeasurable value in finding something or someone tangible and useful and inspirational, but unexpected. To date, most “successful” Procial Network models for manufacturers only allow for one-way discovery: to serve the enterprise. Look, I understand the proprietary concerns of many industries and corporations. The same goes for many SMMs. But customer and market interaction can bring a wealth of discovery and value, too. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater may not be the answer, either.

Procial Networks that are open, that allow for free-flowing information and confluence between manufacturers to collaborate and network, offer solutions to many as yet undiscovered problems.

Imagine the creativity open manufacturing Procial Networks would unleash.

Note: If you’re interested to learn more about some of the examples cited above and more, check out these books: