When I first joined Twitter, I remember being confused by its unwritten rules. The 140 character limit I understood, that was a given.   But the clunky symbols? The Twitter hashtag?  Those gave me pause.

To me, whose profile image was still the default egg, they cluttered the message. Today, however, this system is almost second nature.

Retweeting, mentioning, replying, and hashtags have been added to my social media vocabulary, and their purpose has proven my first impression of them incorrect.

And according to a recent study by RadiumOne, I am not alone. According to RadiumOne, almost three quarters of social media users use hashtags.

Explaining its #popularity

How can the popularity of the hashtag be explained? In one sense, the hashtag is an inevitable result of social media’s popularity. Social media aims to connect individuals so they can share everything from their lunch to their ideas.

In the highly dispersed realm of social media, however, the amount of information being shared is impossible to consume unfiltered.

Even the Library of Congress is having trouble keeping track of all the Tweets. Hashtags, those clunky symbols I had doubted, work to make social media manageable. People use them because they help connect their Tweet to the greater conversation on a certain topic.

Hashtags work because people want to use them. In fact, RadiumOne found that just under 50% of social media users click on hashtags to explore related content.

A change of #heart

Like an automatic filing system, the hashtag designates a Tweet as relevant to the topic at hand. To me, the new user, this wasn’t immediately obvious or significant. I just wanted to share my thoughts and read others.

However, with the growth of social media beyond individuals to organizations, governments, and companies, Twitter became more than just a blog. It became a news and information outlet in and of itself.

Being able to filter these streams became an asset. So, just like millions of other social media users that the RadiumOne study suggests, I have too adopted the hashtag (even if it may be still a bit clunky).