On Facebook, The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere saw more than 7.7 million users drive more than 32.1 million interactions, according to AdWeek. With Halloween right around the corner, how might you use what your customers love--like zombies--to shape your social media strategy?

While social media expert Brian Carter looks chill in his zombie T-shirt, there's nothing casual about his thinking. Carter takes an all-brain approach to his work, combining rigorous data analysis with a healthy dose of creativity to find out what gets folks excited.

Named one of LinkedIn's social media experts to follow, Carter has an overall 150,000 fans through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and has shared his methodologies with more than 10,000 attendees at industry conferences as a professional speaker.

"The essence of what sells on social media is not what most people think," says Carter.

And yes, sometimes the expected works too, a point Carter illustrates with a picture of a chubby baby wrapped in bacon. As the old marketing joke goes, you can't go wrong with puppies, babies, and bacon.

The beauty of ugly

"Companies are often surprised what images, themes or ideas spur their customers to take action," says Carter. "For example, a national home furnishing company wanted to use modern, white, clean furniture in their advertisements for online lead generation."

Carter's online tests showed that while customers in California responded to those visuals, people in the "flyover states"--the bulk of the store's target market--did not. They clicked on pictures of dark brown wood furniture that the merchandising department thought was ugly.

"What they didn't get was that sometimes ugly furniture sells," said Carter.

The zombie love connection

While serving on a Facebook marketing panel at Social Media Marketing World, Carter heard PayPal ‎Global Head of Influencer and Social Media Marketing Dave Peck describe how PayPal leveraged a seemingly random bit of information: Their customers are big fans of The Walking Dead.

The company turned that insight into a commercial about how PayPal could save your life during a zombie apocalypse, which received more than 4,000 unique views on the company's Facebook page. It turned out to be PayPal's most organically viewed video, ever, according to Peck.

"The campaign helped PayPal close the loop and create not only a connection, but a shared enthusiasm for the brand. It transferred the love the customers have for zombies to PayPal," said Carter.

Carter sees PayPal's Walking Dead campaign as a great example of leveraging data you already have to strengthen the bond between your customers and your brand. Expensive listening tools are helpful, but you don't necessarily need them to get into people's heads.

Most brands can review preexisting data and link it to their brand by analyzing readily available demographic and psychographic information from Facebook and other sites.

Bacon, baby

Carter described a campaign he was doing for Carl's Jr. where he had to determine the average fast-food customer's biggest food passion - which brings us back to bacon!

"Everyone knows how awesome bacon is, and the data supported that," Carter recalls. "People were so passionate about bacon it lowered the cost of ads by 67 percent, according to Facebook analytics.

Bacon tripled the profitability of the ads. It's the same reason Carl's Jr. puts bacon on their hamburgers."

In essence, the greater the value of a Facebook ad to your audience, the more affordable it becomes. "Ads people don't like are really expensive, " Carter explains. "Mark Zuckerberg knows if people don't like the ads, they'll hate Facebook and leave. So, identifying customer passions is profitable."

Target practice

Carter offered some additional social media campaign advice for entrepreneurs looking for attention:

1. Start with who: Look at your data and third-party tools to define who your customers are. Marketers are often surprised by what they learn about their biggest and most loyal customers. Build on that base by targeting outside-the-box customer segments.

2. Get creative. Give your customers something unexpected to click on. Their reactions will reveal their passions. Put your preconceptions aside. Focus groups are often wrong. Customers only know what they like, or what they'll buy, when they see it. The truth comes out through user actions and buyer behavior.

3. There's value in volume. Keep churning out ads, social posts, blog posts, lead magnets, services and products. Advertise, amplify and measure behavior. Speed up your testing. Learn from what people like and don't like, and be open to surprises. You never know when you'll find a zombie lurking in your data.