Instagram Inspiration: Selling Your ‘Why’ Through Social Media

By: Elizabeth Bower

“People don’t by what you do, people buy why you do it.” This quote by Simon Sinek is a part of his well-known TedTalk, with over forty-seven million views, called ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action.’ In this powerful video from 2009, Simon lays out an idea called the golden circle, which gives people an insight into how a company can inspire people to take action (TedTalks, 2009).

This famous presentation jettisoned Simon Sinek into a broader world of motivational speaking tours, book deals, and the public spotlight. This upward movement in his career increased his fan-base on social media. Setting the stage for Simon to show people how he practices what he preaches. Following the life of Simon Sinek, through the window of Instagram, confirms his ambition, “To inspire people to do the things that inspire them so that, together, each of us can change our world for the better.” (Simon Sinek Inc, 2019).

Simon Sinek has a verified Instagram account with more than five hundred and forty thousand followers. His account displays an eclectic collection of photographs and captions. Audience age, ethnicity, religion, and political affiliation seem non-descript and untargeted. The posts aren’t posted at the same intervals and don’t have the robotic frequency of a social media management program. Giving way to an overall feeling of following a regular person and not a public figure. 


For someone who doesn’t know anything or much about Simon Sinek and his motivational speaking, teaching, and books, the gallery on his Instagram will look like an ordinary person’s account. Then, after clicking on his link to visit his website, it becomes clear that he, like a lot of public figures, has something to sell. Still, Simon utilizes his account in a very ordinary way, making his profile a relevant means of expression for his business. 

Thomas Alva Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” (Capstone Encyclopedia of Business, 2003). This belief seems to be the opposite of Simon Sinek’s social media use. The majority of his posts are built around inspiring people, through his principles of human and business relationships, and by displaying his lifestyle. Then sprinkled throughout his Instagram platform are more direct marketing and advertising ploys, showcasing his latest book or speaking engagement. The uneven division between inspirational content and promotional content is the way Simon shows his audience how he utilizes his doctrine in his daily life. Consequently, this increases his credibility which is essential for his success.

Simon’s 1%: Perspiration

Like most public figures, Simon uses his Instagram platform to build authority and credibility, to in-turn, make a profit on his products and services. There are pictures of him holding his past and latest books. Pictures of him standing on stage speaking to a group of people and even event dates and locations. What makes these standard entrepreneurial marketing posts stand out is their infrequent nature and how they are amidst Simon’s social media foundation of inspirational and lifestyle content.

Marketing and advertising take up a great amount of time and resources for most businesses. However, businesses can take part in a form of passive selling by freely sharing their knowledge. By focusing more on sharing his knowledge, his life, and providing motivational ideas, Simon is working to convert his social media audience to customers with minimal advertising posts. Lee Ogden, a CEO from a well-known digital marketing agency called Top Rank, wrote a book about how to attract and engage customers online. He states, “Social discovery and sharing of content is another opportunity for companies to better connect their messages and value with communities that are interested.” (Ogden, 2012) So, through sharing content on social media, Simon is connecting with his audience. This seemingly laid-back method to guide people to purchase his book is what inadvertently draws people in emotionally. His approach contributes to seeming as though he is working little (perspiring little) on his business.

Simon’s 99%: Inspiration

Simon shows his audience what inspires him. He documents how the people he meets contribute to his growth as a person, aligning with his ‘why’. This term ‘why’ is a repeated expression throughout a lot of Simon’s content. It alludes to his theory from the golden circle TedTalk and is associated with his books Find Your Why and Start With Why.

What does a choreographer, a Lyft driver, and someone with ALS all have in common? They are all pictures on Simon Sinek’s Instagram. These assorted posts are a common occurrence on his page. In the gallery view, there are pictures of Simon in locations around the world, airplanes, Simon standing on stages in front of crowds, and selfies with random people. In a blog post written by the Instagram Business Team, they say, “By marketing to passions, businesses are turning that inspiration into action. In fact, 75% of Instagrammers take action after being inspired by a post, like visiting a website, searching, shopping or telling a friend.” (Instagram Business Team, 2016) So, this medley of pictures may seem disjointed on the surface but after reading the captions, hashtags, and comments, these photographs become a powerful collection of inspiration, leading to likability, trust and ultimately the consumption of one his services or products.

A great number of Simon’s posts also reflect his lifestyle and daily activities. He posts pictures of his travels, which are not all for business. Showing pictures of enjoying a snack in another country or of a view from his hike, adds a layer of personality and human connection to his Instagram. Simon is also a self-proclaimed airplane geek. He frequently posts snap-shots of airplanes, pilots, and wings from high in the sky. 

Why do these types of posts matter? In an NPR interview hosted by Guy Raz, they discuss how to get people to trust you. Simon states, “Trust comes from a sense of common values and beliefs.” (Sinek, 2015). Not only do displaying lifestyle photographs support Simon’s goal to inspire others but they also attempt to find commonality by revealing how he lives. Gaining his audience’s trust through ordinary daily context shows us, yet again, how he lives his rhetoric outwardly. Which creates a true ‘Kairotic moment’ amongst a multitude of smoke screened media accounts.

The ninety-nine percent inspiration is the key element that upholds Simon’s Instagram profile to his own goals, character, and symbolism. This approach opposes what some, including Edison, would say about being a genius or successful in business.

Simon’s 100%: Success

Simon’s reversed formula of Edison’s quote renders him a credible public figure on Instagram. From the beginning of Simon’s Instagram, showing a TV in a hotel room, his presence on social media aligned with his presence in public making him a rare gem in a sea of social media phonies and cheesy business marketing strategies. In a world where being ‘sold’ seems to come first, Simon chooses to be himself first, and let the rest (his business) fall into place. It’s inspiring. People aren’t buying what he does, they are buying why he does it. 


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