Micro blogging operators in China are stepping up efforts to roll out different kinds of activities these days in order to enlarge their user bases amid rapid growth of the Twitter-like service across the country. Spring Festival and Valentine’s Day became battlefields for major micro blogging service providers.

Sina Weibo, the most popular micro blog in China, kicked off a gift-sending activity during the Spring Festival in which users that successfully invited their friends to register accounts could take part in a lucky draw for gifts. Up to 2.6 million users took part and 4 million gifts were sent by Feb 18.

Portal Sohu.com Inc rolled out a matchmaking activity on its micro blogging service on Jan 13 that attracted about 400,000 followers. More than 10,000 people applied for matchmaking dates.

Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd also cooperated with television stations, including Central China Television, during the Spring Festival on audience interaction through combining its micro blog’s content with television programs.

The micro blogging service attracted more users during last year’s FIFA World Cup.

It is estimated there were 75 million micro blog users in China by the end of 2010. The number is expected to rise to 145 million this year, according to domestic research company Analysys International. To translate the increasing popularity of the service into financial gain is the next challenge for micro blogging providers, said analysts.

“We have been in touch with our customers, trying to find out a proper way to commercialize the micro blogging service,” said CHEN Xinyao, head of Sohu’s micro blogging service. He added that companies have begun to conduct marketing activities via micro blogs, which will likely develop a business model. “Revenues and profits can be guaranteed so long as we have a large number of users and form a big ecosystem,” said Charles CAO, chief executive officer of Sina Corporation, according to a Southern Metropolis Daily report. Sina Weibo had 50 million registered users by last October and aims to boost that to 150 million this year.

The company is building its micro blog into an “open platform” in which developers can post their applications and generate revenues from this. “We will consider grafting search, e-commerce and advertising on to micro blogs,” said CAO, adding that these are traditional revenue generators for the Internet and also work well within the micro blogging world.

The year 2011 is seen as a key year for the micro blogging market. Major players have already begun large-scale market campaigns trying to win an upper hand in the competition. “Sina is in a dominant position currently, and its open strategy also fits the development of micro blogging, but Tencent, having a large user base with its instant message system QQ, should not be downgraded,” said LI Tianfeng, an analyst with Analysys International.