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How The Reddit Button kept million people engaged for 2 months (7 min read)

The Button was a kind of online “game”, which primarily was intended to be an April Fools’ Day joke, developed by Reddit.

It was a clickable button with a 60-second countdown timer installed on Reddit’s homepage without any information about its function or goal. The 60-second timer was resetting each time the button was clicked by another user. Nobody knew what (if anything) would happen when it reached zero.

The button would be blue and free of that lock symbol if you were entitled to press it (each user could press it only once).

?Strategy & Tools

The Reddit Button History Timeline


  • 1st April 2015 – Reddit launches The Button experiment and a new subreddit along with it, called simply "The Button".
  • 2nd April 2015 – the domain gained 50,000 new subscribers and the button itself had already got about 0.5 million clicks.
  • 14th April 2015 – more than 730,000 users has tapped the button since the beginning of the “experiment”.
  • May 2015 – The Button’s fame has reached the biggest media agencies, like BBC News. The Internet has got spammed with numerous articles on the newest Reddit phenomenon.
  • May 2015 – the “game” experienced a few technical issues and the timer reached zero several times despite the button being clicked by the “players”. The timer’s showing zero caused a mass panic among the communities.
  • 5th June 2015 – the experiment has ended after 2 months and 3 days. That day the timer reached zero for the first time without any technical issue causing it.
  • 1,008,316 – that’s how many times the button was clicked throughout the whole experiment.

How the Reddit Button started – A bait or not?

The whole action was introduced on the April Fools’ Day. Nobody knew whether it was something serious or just a simple bait, but that’s what the Reddit Button strategy was all about. The mystery of the whole “experiment” was an additional stimulus for Reddit’s users to engage.

Reddit Button strategy – gamification 

The thing smashed the internet because it used our natural need of being competitive. The Reddit Button strategy relied somehow on the gamification factor. The gamification of the button enabled the "players" to compete against one another with better and better times while pressing the button.

Everybody wants to be the winner, even if the prize is unknown. The winner's fame and glory (even if imaginary) boosts our self-esteem. The developers were successful because they used those mechanisms to their advantage while implementing the mysterious button on their website.

Visible to everyone

The location of the button was also crucial here. It was installed on the main page of Reddit. Millions of people visit that site everyday. Even if only half of them noticed that new, clickable add-on, that would still generate huge interest and become viral as well.

Why was “The Button” so popular – Roaring community

“The Button” subreddit constituted a very vivid and active community, focused around the nearly-mystical, blue button. The Button’s community divided into smaller groups. Each group represented a certain period of time, at which the members of that group pressed the button.

Groups were formed among the people engaged in the experiment, and each of them had different opinion in the whole button community. Users were getting “flairs” appropriately to the time at which they reset the timer by pressing the button. Those flairs were simply colourful dots. Each colour represented a different timescale.

The shorter their time was, the greater the respect a certain group received from others among the button community.

Why was “The Button” so popular – Media craze

An undisputed factor of the whole thing’s popularity and the Reddit Button strategy was the media boom accompanying the experiment. As you can see from the Highlights section, numerous posts and articles about the Reddit button have been published since 1st April 2015 and throughout the period of 2 months. Give something attention, and people will do the rest.

Reddit “The Button” explained: the unexpected… nothing

On 5th June 2015 the madness was over. Nobody pressed the button on time, and the whole thing finished.

The Button bot commented on it: "After 1008316 clicks, the experiment has ended at 05 June 21:50:55 UTC."

Enormous number of clicks and… nothing. Nothing at all. No prizes, no punishment, no spectacular ending. Oh, how disappointing!

Online counter

The simple counter above the button made people crave to join the game.
Just like the views or like counter on the Youtube, Instagram, or Facebook this simple mechanism made Reddit users see that others already joined the game - worked as a social proof.

?Psychology

Simple, yet exciting

What will happen if you press the button? What will happen if you don't? What does that timer mean? Why are there no clues about it? Just a simple click… or not. Decide!

People like to decide, and they gain excitement from that. The Reddit Button strategy was based on mystery. Unbelievable, how easily you can "control" the community, right?

Curiosity gap

Research has shown, how crucial may be one’s lack of knowledge and their curiosity to gain it while learning and experiencing new things. Generally, we get easily attracted to things which are somehow mysterious for us. If we don’t know the result of some action, we are more likely to struggle in order to gain that knowledge and “discover the secret”.

It’s quite obvious that the Reddit Button strategy was primarily based on that principle. Are you curious what may happen if you press that button? Well, you will actually have to try it to find out! It works magic with the bizarreness effect.

Bizarreness effect

What does that strange button do? Is it linked to something else in any way? Isn’t it BIZARRE? It appeared like from nowhere, and… here it is! YOU GOTTA CLICK IT!

Von Restorff effect

According to the Von Restorff effect, people tend to notice and remember more things which somehow stand out from the rest. The Reddit button had two important factors that made him distinguishable by the visitors:

  • it was big,
  • it was blue.

Moreover, it was placed on the top bar of the page so that everybody would see it right after entering Reddit. It was just so obvious that people would like to click it.

Peak-end rule

This phenomenon applies mainly to the beginning and to the ending of the experiment, namely 1st April and 5th June 2015. The button gained a lot of interest during the first two to three days, when the number of new subscribers of the site jumped to 50,000. The ending was unexpected just like the beginning, but, what’s more important - most users were hoping for some conclusions from the button’s developers. Well, that didn’t happen…

In fact, the only thing they got was merely a short info stating that the experiment is over. Nothing less, nothing more. It closed the whole event in a neat, yet effective scheme.

In-group bias

The grouping of those engaged in the event showed people’s tendency to go for groups and their easiness at forming new connections. As it was presented earlier in the text, the subreddit was divided into several groups, which were marked by various colours. Each colour represented different times at which the members of that group pressed the button. Some groups were more popular and respected, others were not. Two months were enough for a mini-war to break out among the “followers” and the “enemies” of the button.

?Window of Opportunity

A simple mini-game on your website might bring unexpected results if done right. Bringing a little bit of gamification in combination with curiosity gap creates an additional value - entertainment.

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