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Noted: Keeping Up, on Camera, Is No Longer Just for the Kardashians

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This spring, John Henry, a 24-year-old entrepreneur and the founder of a Harlem-based nonprofit, had a very strange first date. The woman he had taken to a SoHo restaurant seemed to know a suspicious amount about the places he’d been in recent weeks and the conversations he’d had. This, Mr. Henry slowly realized, was a byproduct of his recent decision to have a videographer film large swaths of his daily life: his work, travels, lunches and even subway commutes, which Mr. Henry had then posted on Facebook and Instagram.

“It removed so much of the humanity of the conversation, because my life is just a big piece of content now,” he said. “There was literally no element of surprise.”

Digital self-promotion has gone to a new extreme. Perhaps taking a cue from Beyoncé, who has famously recorded almost every single moment of her waking life, Mr. Henry is one of a small but growing number of entrepreneurs who have turned their lives into do-it-yourself reality shows. They pay videographers, editors and producers thousands of dollars a month to shadow them and create content for their social media platforms. They “star” as part motivational speaker, part life coach, as they dispense advice and speak enthusiastically about the hustle. They are earnest to a fault; you’ll find no melodrama here (or even much drama).

But people are watching, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands. “The reach is incredible,” Mr. Henry said. “It’s mind-blowing to me that a regular person can reach a quarter of a million people a month if they put the work in.”

Despite the self-promotional nature of this phenomenon, most of these workaday video protagonists claim altruistic reasons for putting their lives under the microscope.

“I wanted to step up as a role model,” said Gerard Adams, 32, a founder of the website Elite Daily who calls himself the “Millennial Mentor,” a title he has trademarked. “I had to overcome a lot of failure and challenges.” Three videographers take turns filming Mr. Adams at his New Jersey-based business incubator, at the gym, and with his family and friends.

Patrick Bet-David, 38, the chief executive of an insurance company, said he wanted “people to see that you can have a wife and kids, and work out, and stay healthy and manage a business. You can pull it off.”

Just over a third of Mr. Bet-David’s life is captured on camera for his YouTube channel, Valuetainment. He was interviewed for this article over the phone at a restaurant in Dallas, where he was having lunch. As usual, his director of film production, Paul Escarcega, was there, too. Mr. Escarcega used two different cameras — one stationary, one hand-held — to shoot the call. (Of course, the audio only picked up Mr. Bet-David’s side of the conversation.)

“You never know when you could be having a conversation that naturally leads to something that brings value to somebody watching,” Mr. Bet-David said. “You try to catch all the moments.”

Cy Wakeman, 52, the chief executive of a human resources and leadership development company called Reality-Based Leadership, which teaches employees how to “ditch the drama,” is convinced there are professional benefits of having a video team follow her around Omaha, where she lives, to conferences across the country and on vacations to places like Tulum, Mexico.

“If people are distracted at work on their phones, I want to be their distraction,” Ms. Wakeman said.

Ms. Wakeman said that her company had received significantly more business since a video team began following her in February, and that there had been a bump in preorders for her coming book, “No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results.”

“It’s no longer just about promoting their company,” said Karen North, director of digital social media and clinical professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. “It’s about promoting themselves as the star of their company.”

Dr. North said the psychological strategy was quite clever. “The real sea change of digital is that it makes everything personal,” she said, adding that individuals like Ms. Wakeman could “talk to you through Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and you feel as if they’re talking to you personally.” And if they engage with even a few people in the comments or retweet what their followers say, Dr. North said that “every individual feels validated.”

Ms. Wakeman’s most recent videos are filmed and produced by VaynerTalent, a division of the company VaynerMedia, whose chief executive, Gary Vaynerchuk, is largely credited for starting the full-time videographer trend. Since 2015, a videographer has followed Mr. Vaynerchuk everywhere, at least five days a week, for a docuseries called DailyVee. He receives roughly 40 million views a month across his social channels.

Hiring a full-time — or even part-time — camera and production crew isn’t cheap. Adam Hamwey, who shoots and produces content for Mr. Henry, said that daily rates ranged from $300 to $500. Mr. Adams said he pays six figures annually for his three-person team. VaynerTalent offers packages starting at $25,000 a month. They work with clients who want a comprehensive personal brand strategy, which means you’re not simply hiring a videographer and producer but also a growth hacker, media strategist and analytics expert. Ms. Wakeman, for instance, has a team of seven people.

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Mr. Vaynerchuk, 41, said that within a very short time of having a camera trail him, he had ceased to notice it. “It makes sense how reality TV could work,” he said, adding that it is now completely natural for him to live his life “on the record.”

It’s not always easy to do this, though. Mr. Adams of Elite Daily, said that when he broke up with his girlfriend, viewers reached out to ask why she had suddenly disappeared from his videos. “That was really tough,” he said. But even this, he believes, is a way to grow his following. “The more vulnerable you are, the more you will build trust and a real community and people who will take the ride with you,” he said.

Ms. Wakeman, who keeps most of her personal life off screen, thinks it’s harder for women to make themselves similarly vulnerable. “I have been shocked at the posts I get that call out that I am fat or who make sexual comments about me,” she said. “I have talked with men, and they simply do not get these comments at all.”

Mr. Vaynerchuk said he expected some people to consider him self-absorbed. “I deploy ungodly amounts of empathy to people who read and hear about this and what their initial reaction is,” he said. “I get it. But I fundamentally believe it will be a greater norm in half a decade.”

He pointed out that Twitter and Facebook were once considered engines of narcissism. Of course, they can be. But it is also commonplace now to tweet about your breakfast or post endless photos of your dog. Maybe a decade hence, the streets will be crowded with pedestrians and their camera crews.

If so, here is a glimpse of what that might look like. In April, the investment firm Charles Schwab filmed a short documentary about Mr. Henry, featuring his rise from a 19-year-old doorman to the chief executive of a successful mobile dry cleaning company. The Schwab team followed Mr. Henry for three days, as Mr. Henry’s videographer, Mr. Hamwey, followed them. And then both camera crews trailed Mr. Henry to Mr. Vaynerchuk’s office, where they met up with his cameraman. “You walked in with an army!” Mr. Vaynerchuk said.

The cameras were arranged with Mr. Vaynerchuk’s and Mr. Henry’s cameramen in the conference room and the Schwab team outside, shooting through the glass walls. “That’s how we made it work,” Mr. Henry said. “It was a little silly.”

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