UWindsor’s Student Content Creators: In Conversation with Linden Crain, Carly Coombe, and Hope Monaco
In recent years, online content creators have taken over social media. Unbeknownst to many students at UWindsor, they may be crossing paths with Internet-famous content creators in their very own school’s hallways. Personally, I’m intrigued by digital media, and I’m even more intrigued by the content creators that attend UWindsor as students. To discover more about what it’s like to be a student and digital creator, I reached out to UWindsor’s very own Linden Crain, creator and host of the Coffee with Crainer podcast, Carly Coombe, the bookstagrammer behind Beauty n’ Her Books, and Hope Monaco, the food blogger behind Local Plant Eater. What kind of media brands do these students run? What got them into media in the first place? How do they juggle being a student and digital creator? Let’s find out!
Linden Crain of Coffee with Crainer
Linden Crain is a fourth-year UWindsor student pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce with a specialty in marketing, as well as a minor in Political Science. He is the creator and host of Coffee with Crainer, a podcast where he does live interviews with industry professionals who share insightful stories and advice for today’s emerging leaders. When you take a quick look at all the episodes Crain has produced for his podcast and the professionals he’s worked with, it’s hard not to be impressed. More than a few notable figures have appeared on his show, all coming from a range of fields, from current leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath, to international muralist David Derkatz, to top Canadian criminal defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme.
Crain tells me that he started his podcast at the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020. Since then, he has released 63 episodes. Because the pandemic put a stop to many in-person conferences and networking events, this UWindsor student felt compelled to step in and provide an online alternative. In his words, Coffee with Crainer “was designed as a completely free platform providing an opportunity for young leaders to interact with local community leaders and hear their leadership stories and career advice”. Although Crain wouldn’t consider himself an influencer per se, he sees his show as a platform that can positively influence young people in their future career paths and life decisions.
Curious (and a little jealous) about how a young undergraduate student managed to create such a successful podcast, I asked Crain if he had any previous experience in media or content creation that helped him achieve his feat. He tells me he’s currently a Communications, Marketing, and Special Projects intern for Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens. Before working at the Mayor’s Office, he also managed social media for two nonprofit organizations based in New Mexico: Himalayan Stove Project and Media Savvy Citizens. “Each opportunity has helped me gain valuable social media and digital advertising experience,” he explains.
For Crain, the main highlight in leading his podcast has been connecting with successful local leaders and helping young people discover more about potential career paths. He tells me, for example, about an interview he did with the president of Fortis Group, Max DeAngelis, which he found especially memorable: “Max grew up in Amherstburg just like me and has since built a very successful construction company,” Crain says. “During the interview, Max shared his unforgettable moment building the Libro Credit Union Arena, and now, the new high school. This was inspiring to know that his company is not just building large commercial properties, there’s more to it. Fortis is helping build better communities.”
However, things aren’t always as effortless as they may seem when Coffee with Crainer is on air. “The challenge with any live show is making sure it runs without a hitch,” Crain says. “Compared to a recorded interview segment, when I’m on air there’s little room for mistakes.” After over a year of practice, though, he seems to have gotten the hang of things. “Preparing well in advance of the interview has been critical and helped me keep the show on time, on topic, and free of “dead air”, he says. “Looking back at my performance in April 2020, hosting over 60 interviews has really helped me improve my public speaking skills and run each segment more smoothly. Practice makes perfect, and in no way are my interviews perfect, but preparation has been key in improving my show.” Well, no one is perfect, but I’d say that making 63 podcast episodes with interesting and well-known community leaders in a year is pretty damn good.
In addition to running his podcast, Crain is actively volunteering for various boards in Amherstburg and Windsor, serving as a Director on the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce and Amherstburg Community Foundation boards, and serving as a committee member for Invest WindsorEssex’s Young Professionals Advisory Council. I wondered how Crain manages to balance school, his podcast, and his other extracurriculars. As you might imagine, he’s very serious about good time management. “Being a university student, there really is no time to procrastinate and I find setting goals and keeping a very up-to-date Outlook Calendar extremely helpful in maintaining my focus,” he shares.
When asked what advice he would give to other students or young people who are interested in online content creation and are thinking of starting a blog, podcast, or other media brand of their own, Crain simply says: “Be original and find your niche.” As he explained to me, competition in the digital landscape is only increasing, so setting oneself apart by focusing on a specific topic can help budding content creators attract and build a loyal audience.
One of this podcaster’s future goals for his show is reaching 100 episodes. “Windsor-Essex is home to thousands of exceptional leaders and industry professionals, so there will always be someone with a fascinating story to share,” he imparts. I must say, reaching that milestone doesn’t seem too far off now. To learn more about Coffee with Crainer, you can check out the podcast’s website here.
Carly Coombe of Beauty n’ Her Books
Carly Coombe is in her second year of Teacher’s College at UWindsor, having completed her undergraduate degree at the University in English and History in 2020. She runs a popular bookstagram by the name of Beauty n’ Her Books, which boasts an impressive 5.25K followers.
For those who are unaware, a bookstagram is essentially an Instagram account dedicated to books. There’s quite a bit of variety when it comes to this online subculture, and bookstagrammers post all types of content. Coombe explains to me that some make content solely about books, while others also incorporate general life and lifestyle content into their accounts. “Some will even become authors and use their bookstagram as a starting point to generate an audience,” she tells me. Bookstagrammers make content about audiobooks to graphic novels to paperbacks, and about genres ranging from mysteries to romances. They produce book reviews, run book-related discussions, create book photography, and so much more. The possibilities for content creation in this community are quite literally endless.
Coombe’s Beauty n’ Her Books bookstagram reflects the variety that is characteristic of the community. She posts book photography of her current reads, engages her followers in discussions about books, and occasionally posts book reviews when authors on book tours reach out to her and ask her to help promote their newest work.
However, Coombe’s bookstagram has become a springboard for book-related opportunities way beyond Instagram content creation. For example, she has had the chance to attend exclusive events at publishing houses and special movie screenings; the most recent screening she’s attended was for the film There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins, which is now on Netflix. Thanks to her bookstagram, Coombe has been able to interact with notable authors such as Elly Blake and Margaret Atwood, too. She’s made connections and friendships with readers throughout Windsor-Essex and Ontario, and she’s even helped create an online book club with readers all over Canada. She has been able to collaborate with publishing houses as an ARC reader—someone who receives Advance Reader Copies of soon-to-be-published books and who publishes reviews about them on their bookstagram, blog, or the Goodreads platform for marketing purposes.
On top of all of that, she has become a representative for three bookish companies, who send her products to share on Instagram and provide her with exclusive discount codes that she can share with her followers. She’s a rep for Order of Chaos Pins, a company specializing in book-themed enamel pins, Possum Wicks, which produces candles, and Fandom Signs, which, as you might have guessed, makes hand-crafted wooden fandom signs. All respective discount codes can be found on the Beauty n’ Her Books Linktree. She adds: “All of these stores are located in Ontario, so make sure to support small businesses this holiday season”.
But wait—there’s still more! Coombe’s bookstagram has also allowed her to branch off into small business territory, and she’s created AlwaysSeptemberShop, where she sells hand-sewn book sleeves, handmade bookmarks, and more.
But where and how did this mini-book empire even begin? For starters, Coombe tells me she’s always been a big bookworm. “Ever since I was young,” she explains, “I have always found escapism in reading, whether it be a full-length fantasy or just a basic coffee shop report”. Five years ago, her cousin introduced her to bookstagramming, where she found out about ARCs and became intrigued. “I thought, well, I love reading, and reviewing books is fun, so why not give it a shot?” she asked. She began posting pictures of her library, discussing her current reads, and applying to become an ARC reader. “I had no idea what I was doing, but I would send emails out to publishers and really just hope for the best,” she says. Thus began Beauty n’ Her Books.
Coombe’s success wouldn’t have been possible without lots of practice, however. She used to post in a more haphazard way, for instance, but she has since progressed into what content creators call “content batching”. This technique has been especially beneficial for helping her balance her bookstagramming activities with school. “I have scheduled days where I’ll take batch photos (anywhere between 15-25 photos), edit them, upload them to my scheduling site, and get everything set,” she says about her content batching process. “It takes about 4-5 hours to get this all set, but once it’s done, all I have to do is remember to post. This allows me to do my school work and not worry: do I have a photo, did I write a caption?”
She would advise any up-and-coming bookstagrammers and bloggers to be true to themselves when it comes to making content. “Talk about what you love and make your account represent you,” she recommends. “Prefer to read more mystery and thrillers? You would not believe the sub-community of like-minded people!” She adds that content creators shouldn’t be scared of change, either. “You don’t have to stick to a specific “image,” you can always change up what you post and talk about,” she says.
At the end of the day, Coombe wouldn’t exactly call herself an influencer, since she doesn’t think her account is big enough for that label. “I don’t know if I would deem myself an influencer, since when I think of that, I think of a person who has 10K or more followers,” she says. How does she identify herself then? “I guess I would just be a normal girl who loves books?” she asserts.
Luckily, Coombe has no plans of stopping her bookstagram any time soon, so be sure to check it out here.
Hope Monaco of Local Plant Eater
Hope Monaco is a fourth-year student at UWindsor pursuing a double-major in Psychology and Communications, Media, and Film. She runs an Instagram account called Local Plant Eater, which she describes as “my little corner on the Internet where I share my love and passion for plant-based eating, and intentional, mindful, and slow living”. She shares easy and delicious plant-based recipes talks about her journey of transitioning to a plant-based diet and how it’s improved her life, promotes what she calls “the healing power of food”, and shares mindfulness tips and resources to help others achieve their goals.
Monaco’s foray into media began when she was quite young. “I’ve always loved the idea of writing and blogging and sharing photos as an expression,” she says. In grade school, for example, she tells me how she had an Instagram fan page of one of her favourite YouTubers, which gained a large following. In high school, she created various blogs, but she kept them private. “I would just share it with my family,” she explains. “I always felt like what I was writing, no one would really want to hear what I have to say or read it.” It wasn’t until years later, when she transitioned to a plant-based diet and became interested in cooking, that she started publicly sharing content online.
“I was so fascinated with the idea that I can create these delicious meals with just vegetables and plant-based foods,” she explains. “I started creating beautiful-looking dishes and desserts, and my family and friends would see them and say wow! You should take a picture of that to save that.” Slowly but surely, the food photos accumulated. “I then started to have friends and family ask me about my plant-based choices,” she tells me, “and the most common question I would always get is: well, what can you eat? And it made me realize how this was a topic at the time that no one around me was really understanding.” Ah, there was the lightbulb moment. Monaco created her Local Plant Eater IG and began sharing her plant-based recipes with her friends and family, but the account grew into so much more.
In fact, she tells me that her new diet changed her life. Before adopting a plant-based diet, she says: “I had poor digestion, acne and low self-esteem. I was able to heal my skin, heal my digestion, and I was able to gain my confidence back. The way I was eating was starting to change the way that I felt, the way that I thought, and how I moved through my life.” The new outlook on life she gained through her diet led her to practice mindfulness and yoga as well. She’s even taken a 200-hour training course to become certified to teach yoga and meditation.
She considers the connections she’s made online as one of the main highlights of running Local Plant Eater. “I have made so many friends from around the world on my Instagram page over the last few years,” she tells me. “It’s such an encouraging platform and feels like such a safe place.”
Her Instagram account has also landed her opportunities to write for Windsor’s own Biz X magazine, work for Vista Magazine Canada, and be featured in other local magazines to share her passion for plant-based eating. Additionally, she has recently expanded her brand by creating three e-books of plant-based recipes. The books are titled Vegan for 1, and each focuses on easy, seasonal recipes for the summer, winter, and fall, respectively. Finally, Monaco’s account has allowed her to work with various American and Canadian brands as an ambassador to create new recipes and share their products with her followers. Her promotional codes can be found via her Linktree.
When asked if she would consider herself an influencer, she says she simultaneously would and wouldn’t. On the one hand, she says: “I would consider myself an influencer in a positive way to promote my favourite products, finds, and loves.” However, she emphasizes that she didn’t get into content creation for fame. “I didn’t start my page in the hopes to make money or a career or work with brands,” she stresses. “I went into it as a passion and not ever expecting it to grow into what my page has today. It’s growing every day, and who knows, maybe one day I will be able to run it as a blog full-time, which would be incredible! I don’t take on products just because or promote something that I don’t align with. I want my followers to be able to trust me and to be a resource they can count on.”
In terms of advice for those aspiring to work in media, she recommends diving in headfirst. “My best advice would be to just go for it” she expresses. “If you have been thinking about it and you are scared or nervous of what others may think or say, don’t be! You don’t have to have thousands of followers to start, an awesome camera, or expensive editing software. If you share what you love, you will attract those who can relate to what you are sharing. Be yourself, have fun and know that it’s a form of expression. You are you and that is your power!”
Monaco is brimming with ideas and plans for the future of Local Plant Eater. She is currently in the process of revamping her website, for instance. “This will be the space where my followers can see all of my recipes, shop my favourite products and finds, and a place where I can write and blog and share more than just photos with others,” she explains. One day, she would also love to have her own cookbook, or possibly a YouTube channel where she can share her recipes.
To follow along on Monaco’s plant-based blogging journey, be sure to follow her on Instagram here.
There you have it, folks: a quick snapshot of what it’s like to be a student and content creator, as told by Linden Crain, Carly Coombe, and Hope Monaco. Know of other UWindsor students/digital creators we should feature in an article? Email us at email@example.com!