If there’s one recurring reason companies are reluctant to embrace social media, it’s that “something could go wrong.”  But when something else goes wrong in your company, are you prepared to use social media as a way to steady the ship?

Eileen O’Brien has an excellent summary of Johnson & Johnson’s recent use of social media to help manage the information flow surrounding their recall of Tylenol and other medications.  And while Twitter and blogs aren’t the only resources a company should turn to in times of crisis, savvy communicators realize that their customers sometimes rely on social media for real-time news.

Consider Wyclef Jean’s response to doubts about the financial clarity of his charity, YELE, after an article in The Smoking Gun called its accounting practices into question.  Instead of ignoring the mounting firestorm, Wyclef issued an official statement at a formal press conference (which may not necessarily have helped alleviate concerns).  But he also posted a video to YouTube regarding his feelings about the situation, which, at the time of this post, has been viewed over 300,00 times — and that’s not counting the numerous duplicates spread around the web.

The lesson?  People love to share information, and in times of crisis, you’d like that information to be coming from you.

These days, being able to deliver pertinent, accurate information to people when and where they expect to see it is safer than expecting them to be herded to a single focal point.  Twitter moves at the speed of misinformation, and the last thing your company needs during a potential crisis is to lose control of the facts due to rapidly spreading inaccuracies.  Better to have a contingency plan in place to mitigate misinformation in advance than to cobble together a response after the story’s already been told.

No business is immune to mistakes, because businesses are made of people, and human beings are notoriously imperfect.  Disasters strike.  Accidents happen.  But not being prepared for the unknown is no one’s idea of a smart business plan.